Sunday, March 30, 2014

Time is Occasional

The nature of time, contrary to popular opinion, is not a simple linear progression.  It wobbles, it curves and sometimes seems to absent itself completely.  On the occasions when it does deign to put in an appearance it seems distressingly uninterested in conforming to the categorisations we have helpfully provided for it.  Which means that time isn't just fickle but is an ungrateful little minx as well.  This is why an hour can sometimes drag for an eternity or flick past so quickly you could blink and miss it.

Sometimes I've noticed that time just seems to vanish.  I have it on reasonable authority that the last five years did happen but I'd be very hard pressed if I had to produce any solid proof that time had actually passed at all.  It has been pointed out to me that I simply wasn't paying attention which is probably true but doesn't alter my main point which is that time gets up to some deeply weird shit when it thinks nobody is looking.  There are some experiments where the mere act of observation alters the results.  Time seems to work the opposite way.  It only works if somebody is watching.

Personally I don't think time passes at all except under observation.  In my case, having realised I was watching, time hastily dumped five years worth of semi plausible memories into my head and pretended it had been happening all the time.  I'm pretty sure I don't remember doing half the things I remember doing.  This in itself isn't very impressive until you realise that time is doing the same thing for every single person in the world.

The question is, why?  Surely it would be easier to simply unfold in a basic linear progression rather than indulge in all this desperate backing and filling.  My opinion is that being time is simply something time does on a part time basis.  All the rest of the time time is doing something far more interesting with its time.  Every so often it checks in with the office, patches up any holes that have appeared in causality and then goes back to whatever else it was doing.  Which raises another question.  If time itself is a part time job why do I spend so much of my time at work?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

There is Nothing Like a Knight

So, apparently we now have Knights and Dames at the pinnacle of our honours list once again.  The queen has graciously consented to sign the letters of patent which will make Knight (or Dame) of the Order of Australia our top honour.  One can't help thinking the queen's side of that conversation probably went something like;

"They want what?"
"In god's name, why?"
"Can I say no?"
"Oh well give me the damn pen then"

This restitution has already had an immediate effect.  I for one have been humming "There's Nothing Like a Dame" most of the day.  The knighthood (or damehood?) will be awarded only to those who "have been called to public service rather choosing it" which quite neatly invalidates all politicians.  Tony Abbott may be old fashioned but he's not necessarily stupid.  It does mean that the short list is going to consist of various governors and people sentenced to community service rather than gaol time.  I guess the selection process hasn't changed appreciably.

I must admit I saw little point in getting rid of knighthoods from our honours list in the first place but once gone I see even less point in bringing them back.  To keep an archaic honour system long past its use by date is appropriately traditional.  To get rid of it and then sneak it back in several years later smacks too much of pathetic nostalgia and insecurity.

There are some benefits to having knights (and dames) of course.  The word "Sir" in front of your name has got to be good for a board seat or two and guarantees that you will find a publisher for your memoirs even if it can't guarantee people will buy them.  For those of us who don't have such an honour there is a benefit as well.  When the recipient goes to gaol they can be stripped of the honour and since up until that time they will have been known as "Sir" or "Dame" it is going to be very obvious when they can't use it anymore.  Alan Bond was stripped of his Order of Australia when he went to gaol but lets face it how many of us actually knew he had it in the first place.  At the moment all the criminally minded honour bearers (and judging by how they're awarded that must be a sizeable percentage) lose is a couple of letters after their name that always put me in mind of a censorship board classification.

The first two recipients of the honour will be the outgoing and incoming governor generals.  Which raises a rather sneaky thought in my mind.  I suspect Tony Abbott came up with the entire idea as a charming, polite and elegant way to make Quentin Bryce look like a total prat.  She can either refuse and look ungracious or accept (which she has) which will go down wonderfully around the dinner table with her son in law and at various Australians for a republic meetings.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Birthday Greetings # 35

Happy birthday to Andronikos II Palaiologos, Byzantine emperor.  Andronikos became sole ruler of the empire in 1282 (he had been coruler with his father before that) and started out on a reign for which the term "catalogue of disasters" would be a kind, even generous description.  In his defence it has to be pointed out that he was starting from a bad position.  The Fourth Crusade had effectively destroyed the empire nearly eighty years earlier and the tattered remnants had been struggling along ever since.  Andronikos' father had been emperor of Nicaea, the largest and most successful of the Byzantine successor states.  In 1261 the Latin Empire of the Crusaders left Constantinople without locking the door and the Byzantines sneaked back into their capital and the empire was officially reborn.

However the financial resources that were adequate for running a midsized nation were not sufficient to rebuild a shattered capital and conduct the desperate diplomacy necessary to stop various western powers from trying to reverse the fait accompli.  In addition to this Andronikos' father, in an attempt to suck up to the pope had unilaterally accepted Catholic authority over the empire despite being opposed by virtually everyone else in it.  Politically it served its purpose of keeping the westerners at bay for a few critical years but it meant that when Andronikos came to the throne the state was bankrupt, the Turks were restive and his father was reviled so much that Andronikos had to bury him in an unmarked grave.

The kindest thing that can be said about Andronikos is that having inherited a desperate position he was unable to really improve matters.  Faced with state bankruptcy he jacked taxes and disbanded most of his army and all of his navy.  The Turks said "thank you very much" and wandered into most of the empire's remaining possessions in Asia Minor.  Some desperate marriage diplomacy did manage to stop various Balkan marauders from overrunning what little was left of the empire's European territories but even so if they had tried there was little enough Andronikos could have done to stop them.

Having disbanded his army Andronikos then had to resort to mercenaries (not the cheapest of options) to defend his territories in Asia Minor.  He hired the Catalan Company a fierce band of well armed and organised professional soldiers led by a disgraced Templar.  These guys certainly gave the Turks a decent beating but when they submitted their bill all Andronikos could do was whistle and look at the ceiling.  Since the Catalans were now about the only effective military force in the empire they simply extorted vast promises of pay and when this looked unlikely to turn up threatened to take it by force (something they'd already been doing quite a bit of to the point where the imperial citizens they were protecting were looking forward to getting conquered by the Turks).

What happened next is a little cloudy but Andronikos' son invited Roger de Flor the Catalan's leader to dinner during the course of which Roger was murdered.  The Catalans promptly elected a new commander and rampaged through the empire so thoroughly that there was little left for the Turks to conquer.  Having looted everything not nailed down the Catalans moved into Greece (still mostly being ruled by descendants of the western crusaders) smashed the rulers of Athens and settled down to run the place instead.  Meanwhile with the only effective defence gone the Turks captured most of Byzantine Asia Minor, permanently.

Things got worse for Andronikos after that.  The ruler of Bulgaria defeated his son Michael (who had a habit of getting defeated in battle) and occupied north eastern Thrace.  Then his grandson accidentally had his father murdered.  The grandson (another Andronikos) had been having a dalliance with a lady and suspected infidelity.  He hired a gang of thugs to wait outside the ladies home.  Apparently by pure coincidence his father, Manuel, happened to be walking by and the thugs beat to death.  Whatever his own faults Andronikos (senior) could be forgiven for thinking his grandson was unfit for the throne and he promptly disinherited the lad.  The "lad" raised his own army and in an eight year civil war defeated his grandfather, captured Constantinople and took over what was left of the empire.  Andronikos was forced to retire and become a monk which after forty ghastly years on the throne probably came as something of a relief.

Anarchist Book Fair

I went to an anarchist book fair over the weekend.  I wasn't sure exactly what to expect.  Well, no I knew exactly what to expect; books and lots of black tshirts.  As it turned out I wasn't entirely correct.  Black tshirts were there in abundance, I was wearing one myself in a pitiful attempt to fit in and look less like someone who voted for Tony Abbott in the last election.  Books were somewhat thinner on the ground.

The anarchist book fair was held on some council land in Marrickville which is also home to various social, cultural, environmental and artistic organisations many of them with the word "cooperative" in their name somewhere.  What they all had in common was an apparent inability to pay the economic price of their rent.  Reverse Garbage is there which many of my friends tell me is amazing.  They recycle stuff into other stuff.  I fully intend to wander down there the next time I need stuff although if your business model depends absolutely on other people throwing things away are you going to be pleased or disappointed if they stop?

I was meeting Morganne at the book fair for a late breakfast.  Morganne's partner had a stall there selling vegan goodies.  I scored a free cup of chai which was the most impressive thing I encountered at the book fair.  Along the way to breakfast I thought I could browse the book fair and possibly pick up some politically acceptable reading material.  I turned out to be wrong.  .

After observing the traditional social niceties involving greetings and chat Morganne and I entered the book fair and began browsing.  Ten minutes later we were finished.  We browsed back the other way in case we had missed something.  We hadn't, the second bit of browsing only took five minutes.  The last time I looked a book fair was supposed to have books.

OK that last statement was a little unfair, there were some books.  At least two of the stalls had a number of books for sale but precious few and not many that seemed to have been published after 1980.  I guess even anarchists use a book fair as an excuse to clean out all the old crap from their bookshelves that they haven't been able to decently get rid of.  There was one stall selling cookbooks.  Vegan cookbooks, organic cookbooks, cruelty free cookbooks and sometimes all three.  I wasn't quite sure what the connection with anarchy was but I have to admit they were books.

As a sidebar I couldn't help but marvel at how stupendously wealthy our society must be for us to be so precious about what we put in our mouths.  I didn't mention that to the sellers just in case they were anarchists as well as organic, vegan, cruelty free cookbook vendors.

It would appear that most of the creative energy that anarchists of yore had put into writing books was now occupied coming up with snappy slogans for tshirts.  Tshirts were for sale on more stalls than books were.  There was a whole range of slogans to choose from as long as you hated News Corporation.  If you had any other opinions you would pretty much have to go naked.  One stall was selling (among other things, but not books) a map of Australia.  I examined it and was delighted to find my birthplace prominently mentioned which doesn't happen a lot on maps of this size.  Since this map detailed the various nuclear and uranium facilities around the country it is a bit of a mixed blessing.  Again I didn't mention to the nice people that my father may have worked in a uranium extraction related capacity (note to self, find out what my father actually did at Rum Jungle, I've never quite known) while we were living there.  There was also a stall advocating the abolition of money.  I don't know if they were selling anything but I decided to show my support for them by not finding out.

All in all the book fair was a bit of a bust so Morganne and I wandered off to have breakfast.  From my point of view it was a waste of time as my two reasons for going (to buy books and hit on hot anarchist chicks) were both stymied.  There was one extremely attractive young lady assisting Morganne's partner with the vegan stall but I completely ruined any chances I had with her when I let slip that I might enjoy eating meat occasionally.  Apparently not even her dog does that.  I'd like to think that the book fair got better as the day went on (we were rather early) but I suspect that it provided little more than an opportunity for like minded people to sell each other tshirts that they already owned.  Reverse Garbage would be delighted.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Low Camp Part 3

Wallabies and The White Onion Policy

We were invaded during the night!  A wallaby forced its way into Tony and Natali's tent, chewed the bottom out of a plastic food container and started snacking on the delights inside when Natali chased it off.  No wallabies attempted to enter my tent, possibly because there was no food inside but more likely because they were frightened off by my snoring.  Jason and Idette who were twenty feet away inside a separate tent with small children assured me that I was snoring.

Oh wait, I forgot.  There was one food item in my tent.  A single white onion.  Three white onions along with some sausages, cornflakes and dip had been my token contribution to the communal food supply.  I selected white onions because I like white onions and not at all because I haven't heard of any other kind.  You would not believe the storm of ridicule that descended on my head.  Nobody, but nobody, I was informed pityingly uses white onions nowadays.  Had I not heard of brown onions?  Or, heaven forbid, spanish onions?  Eager to defend my onion choice I recruited the assistance of a complete stranger who was wandering by and invited him to support my onion decision.  He responded with an impromptu speech on the white onion generally and its place in our society concluding with the assertion that up until about twenty years ago nobody used anything else.  This actually made things worse as I was accused of parochialism, being behind the times and borderline racism (white onion policy anyone?).  Sobbing I tucked my remaining onion away in my bag and then borrowed a bowl from my persecutors so I could eat breakfast.

After breakfast a glance at the weather report made us decide to break camp and get the hell out of Dodge.  This was without a doubt the smartest decision we made.  Under blazing sun and cloudless sky we dismantled our temporary accommodation surprising ourselves by managing to fit everything into the bags they came in.  After that it was just a quick trip (well several quick trips) to the ferry wharf.  The deckhand on the ferry was the same guy who ran the water taxi the previous day, either he's moonlighting or there are some serious conflict of interest issues there.  The brilliant sun continued as the ferry trundled us across Pittwater and deposited us in Palm Beach.  We accidentally stole somebody elses fold up chair but I think he got it back.  We paused in Palm Beach for an early lunch again under a burning sun that mocked our attempts at shade and then made our separate ways home.  I was hitching a lift with Tony and Natali and we hadn't got far before the sky went black and then threw an ocean at us.  At one point it might have been faster if we got out and swam.  Progress was slow as we navigated water covered roads and passed lightning blasted trees and overworked emergency vehicles.  Most of them were from the fire brigade which seemed mildly ironic.  Still I doubt if you would too many recruits for something called the rain brigade.  Eventually however we made our way to civilisation and said our goodbyes.  I stopped off in Newtown to purchase some coffee.  Due to rain delays, trackwork and bus delays it took me an hour and a half to get home.

I wonder when we're next going camping?

Low Camp Part 2

Stingrays and Smashed Toes

The first thing to greet us on our arrival at The Basin was a three foot long goanna.  Actually that's not quite true.  The first thing to greet us was Tony, Natali and Jasmine who had arrived the previous evening.  The second thing to greet us was a three foot long goanna.  The third thing to greet us following hard upon the second (not coincidentally) was a group of small boys armed with tent poles.  Briefly and surprisingly convincingly Tony slipped into the role of responsible adult and spoke quietly to the children.  We didn't hear what was said, honestly officer, but I'm sure it was something along the lines of the sanctity of all life and the importance of biodiversity and not at all to do with where those tent poles might get shoved if the goanna got hurt.

So there we were in The Basin just us, a goanna and four hundred odd other people who had had the same idea.  The sun shone brightly as we erected our tents.  Tony very kindly helped me erect mine and by that I mean I helped him erect mine and by that I mean he erected mine while I tried not to get in his way.  Once it was done I posed shirtless, Putin style, in front of the tent so a photo could be sent to a work colleague to try and convince her I was a rugged outdoorsman.  Naturally she didn't believe it for a second.

With tents up and air mattresses agonisingly inflated with a hand pump (oh the humanity) we all sat back to enjoy coffee and make personal comments about each other.  My share of this consisted of remarks about my toenails which I will freely admit are disgusting.  After that we (by which I mean, I) remarked on the amount of wallaby shit about the place.  We tried not to walk on it at first but you would have needed to be able to levitate to avoid it completely.  There was a beautiful tree lined escarpment at our backs which we ignored completely but the water was closer so Idette and Natali herded the children towards the beach while the menfolk (which can loosely be considered to include me) lolled around in fold up chairs.  Once the attractions of lolling were exhausted Tony went for an afternoon nap and I headed sandward to find the swimmers.

Nobody was swimming.  The kids were attempting to bury each other in the sand while Natali and Idette sat at the waters edge.  Natali had been stung by something while swimming and it didn't seem to be getting any better so she hobbled to the rangers station for attention.  Jason and I wandered over there more, it must be admitted, out of curiosity than sympathy to learn that she had been attacked by a stingray.  Could we please go back to our camp and fetch the first aid kit and, if possible, Tony.  Since the only first aid supplies the rangers station seemed to have was a bucket of warm water that Natali's foot was currently resting in we acknowledged the need and headed back to the camp as fast as we could amble.

Once there we woke Tony and explained the situation.  He pointed at the first aid kit and went back to sleep.  In his defence he thought we were joking.  After all, except in b-grade horror movies, what husband expects his wife to get mauled half to death by a sea monster on a family camping trip.  It also says something about the relationship between the three of us that neither Jason nor myself were particularly surprised that Tony thought we made the whole thing up.  We woke him again perhaps a little less gently and convinced him of our sincerity or at least we convinced him to come and see if we were lying.

By the time we got back to the ranger station the stingray barb had been removed by the skillful application of warm water.  Jason and I left Natali in the care of her husband and wandered off to get ice.  I'm not sure where Idette was at this moment but presumably somewhere near the children.  We fetched the ice which is to say Jason fetched the ice and I accompanied him and returned to the camp.  Jason poured the ice into the esky at which point Idette came unloaded the esky and repacked it so adding the ice would actually do some good.  Tony and Natali hobbled gamely into view (that is Natali hobbled gamely, Tony's game hobbling moment would come later) and subsided gratefully into chairs.  Peace descended, briefly.

Jake was mad keen on soccer and had brought a ball with him.  It was the work of a moment for him to be with a group of other small boys also mad keen on soccer.  Two of those small boys were Jason and Tony.  A vigorous game with shouts, screams and exultant howls was soon underway.  At least, that's what it sounded like, I must admit I wasn't really watching.  Then I realised at least one of the howls wasn't exultant after all.  Jason had stubbed Tony's toe and by stubbed I mean broken.  At some point in proceedings Abigail, Jason and Idette's youngest had fallen and scraped her knee but in between stingray attacks and football injuries I'm afraid I can't even remember when that happened.

As late afternoon approached we started talking about the children's dinner.  Actually we were talking about putting them to bed but the parents assured me that feeding them was a necessary part of that process.  We wanted to be able to bag a barbecue before the rush and the sky was looking a little less friendly so we wandered over to the cooking area with an esky full of barbecuables.  This turned out to be wise as shortly after we turned up the heavens opened and it started hammering down with rain.  Saturated people turned up to try and cook but we had already staked our claim.

Cooking food on a barbecue is the sort of alpha male thing I tend not to be very good at.  Natali agreed that I was more of an omega male an assessment I would have argued with if I had a leg to stand on.  Unfortunately Tony didn't have a leg to stand on either and Jason was still recovering from something I really hope is non communicable so I wound up doing the cooking.  There were no lights in the barbecue area and with the sky now blacker than my soul cooking consisted of throwing things on the hot plate and attempting to guess when they might be ready.  I achieved a modest success by cooking the meat until it was firm and the vegetables until they were soft and to date none of us have died so I'm counting it as a win.

Wallabies apparently fell from the skies during the rain.  There were none before the rain but the place was littered with them afterwards.  They were everywhere most of them being eagerly pursued by small children.  The wallabies were good sports and let the kids approach quite close before hopping out of range and starting the game over again.  With the rain over we squelched back to our campsite to survey the damage.  I discovered a small pond in my tent.  Jason and Idette warned me the tent leaked but actually it hadn't, rather the fly at the back had come loose and flopped against the tent wall ruining its waterproof integrity.  Despite the amount of water inside the tent things weren't so bad.  The air mattress would float if enough water got in and everything that needed to stay dry was on the air mattress (I have been camping before).  Some energetic soaking and wringing work with a towel mopped up the worst of it and I was ready to settle down after dinner.

My first task was to make my little contribution towards stopping the children from killing each other by painting their nails.  I gave each of them (at their own request) a fetching shade of dark blue.  Hopefully it will be removed before they go to school or child minding.  If it isn't I hope at least that the children have enough presence of mind not to tell their teachers or minders that it was applied by a single, forty five year old male on a camping trip.  After that we hopped them up on sugar from marshmallows, excited them with sparklers and sent them to bed.  A couple of glasses of wine and a cigar or two later and the rest of us followed suit.

Low Camp Part 1

The Journey Begins

 "Come camping with us at The Basin", they said.  "It will be fun," they said.  Unaccountably I permitted the heartfelt pleas of my friends to overcome my better judgement.  I agreed on condition that somebody could provide me with a tent, sleeping bag and air mattress without which I would be sleeping in the amenities block.  "No problems," I was told, "we can supply your every camping need."

So there were were, eight of us.  Tony and Natali and their daughter Jasmine (3), Jason & Idette, their son Jake (7) and their daughter Abigail (3) and me off for a jolly weekend camping at The Basin in Ku Ring Gai National Park.

The tone was set early on Friday night as I shopped for some foodstuffs to prevent my being a total parasitic leech.  I got an emergency text message from Natali, could I possibly pick up a couple of things they had forgotten?  Specifically two litres of red wine and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue.  I remortgaged my house and complied.  Once home I received a message from Jason assuring me that they could lend me a sleeping bag and I wouldn't need to bring a blanket, this was good as there wasn't room for both the blanket and the alcohol in my bag.

The next day I woke bright and early at 6.30am which was awkward as I had set my alarm for 5.45 but for some reason my alarm clock failed me.  I dashed around frantically and staggered out of the house under the weight of enough alcohol to fuel an episode of Geordie Shore although not enough alcohol to actually make me watch one.  I was meeting Jason and Idette at Manly at 8.30 and it was obvious I wasn't going to make it.  My reason for wanting to get up so early was because trackwork on my line and there would be delays.  Desperately I flagged down a taxi and promised the driver a kidney if he could get me to Circular Quay.  Foolishly accepting my offer without inspecting the merchandise the taxi driver swept me into town with time to spare and I started to relax.

An event free ferry ride later and I was shaking hands with Jason & Idette.  I expressed my relief that they could provide me with a sleeping bag, they responded that they knew there was something they had forgotten.  They also took this opportunity to point out that the tent they were lending me leaked.  The air mattress they assured me was brand new and in perfect condition.  A swift trip to their home was required (its only a child's sleeping bag but you can cover most of yourself and maybe wrap yourself in a towel if you get cold).  This side journey made catching our ferry in Palm Beach (no road access to The Basin) problematic.

I know what you're thinking but we actually arrived before the ferry.  Then we unloaded the car, and unloaded the car.  After a pause to get our breath back we unloaded the car some more.  Then we had to find parking.  By the time this was arranged the ferry was a dot on the horizon.  Agonised conversation followed.  In deference to the fact that part of the vast pile of luggage was pretty much everything I would need to go camping I didn't mention the size of the luggage more than twenty or thirty times and only in the most helpful and constructive of fashions.  Two decisions were come to, firstly after intense debate Jason and Idette decided not to drown me in Pittwater and secondly we decided to take a water taxi rather than wait for the next ferry.  The water taxi had the advantage of being much faster than the ferry and immediately available.  It had the disadvantage of costing $50.  Since I had already spent more than I expected I found this slightly awkward but solved the problem by borrowing $50 from Jason and paying for my share of the water taxi out of that.

The assistance of the driver (sailor?) got all the luggage onto the water taxi which settled dangerously low in the water but we hopped aboard regardless and set off under a cloudless blue sky.  It really was beautiful, gloriously hot and Pittwater, dotted with boats and fringed by beaches and trees was a delight.  The water was glossy and the beauty of our appointed camping spot grew more evident with every metre it got nearer.  We were a little late but looked forward to making up for lost time with some serious camping.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Birthday Greetings #34

Happy birthday to Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor.  After an apparently endless series of mediocre Habsburg rulers it is refreshing to find one with genuine talent and real intelligence.  By comparison with most of his Habsburg fellow emperors Joseph was a glittering tower of intellect.  Surely he would make a great emperor.  Actually he came close to being a complete freaking disaster.

Joseph was the eldest son of Maria Theresa one of the greatest Habsburg rulers, she had a husband who knew his place and kept discreetly out of the way.  Once that husband died (his name was Francis of Lorraine if you must know and for what is was worth he was Holy Roman Emperor since a woman couldn't actually hold the title) Maria Theresa got Joseph elected emperor in his place.  Joseph had the title but the real power was in the rule of the Habsburg hereditary lands and these Maria Theresa hung on to with Joseph acting as her advisor (or secretary if you prefer).  He got married for political reasons but then screwed it all up by actually falling in love with the woman which was slightly awkward as she much preferred the company of his sister.  Then she died.  Joseph was heartbroken.  Forced to marry again for political reasons he treated the poor girl so badly that she contracted smallpox and died, possibly in self defence.

With his mother sitting firmly on the throne(s) Joseph travelled, dropped in on his sister Marie Antoinette in Paris and helped her out with her "marital difficulties".  He drew her husband (Louis the About to be Executed of France) aside and discreetly murmured that if Louis wanted his wife to get pregnant he was going to have to have sex with her or at least somebody was.  He also dropped in on the Greats, Frederick and Catherine and found time to have a war with Frederick over Bavaria which nobody could quite believe at the time and still takes a lot of accepting now.  Once Maria Theresa finally died Joseph was an experienced, reasonably well educated, highly intelligent young man who felt his time had come.  Totally wrong.

Joseph was certainly a man of talent, what he wasn't was a man of compassion, understanding or it would seem much common sense.  Utterly convinced that he knew what was best for his people (to be fair he quite often did) he treated any objections or opposition as treason and rode roughshod over the opinions of the people in whose interest he was supposed to be ruling.  He wanted to increase religious tolerance, relieve the feudal burdens on the peasantry, foster trade, abolish serfdom, abolish the death penalty and improve the quality of the civil service.  As an election platform that sounds pretty good.  However when it is rammed down your throat all at once by a monarch who refuses to listen to a word you say the beneficial impact is somewhat muted.

The trouble was that the benefits of most of these policies were long term while all of the problems were immediate.  To take feudal duties for example.  These were a throwback to the middle ages when peasants were obliged to work on their lords land in return for their holdings.  Joseph converted it to a simple cash rent payment on the theory that with the extra time the peasants would be able to work more for their own benefit and thus pay the rent and improve themselves simultaneously.  It worked in a lot of other countries.  Unfortunately a good deal of the empire was so backward that the rural areas were still largely on a barter system and converting their obligations to a cash payment was a disaster for peasants who didn't have any cash.  It was also a disaster for the landlords who were used to getting free labour and knew perfectly well that the peasants didn't have any money to pay the rent even if they wanted to.

Religious tolerance didn't go down very well in the religiously intolerant parts of the empire (quite a bit of it) and pretty much everyone agreed that extending religious tolerance to Jews was just turning the whole thing into a farce.  Reorganising the empire so that it ran more efficiently sounds great but ran face first into the simple fact that if people have been doing things in a certain way for centuries they're going resent being forced to change.

Joseph skilfully coupled these internal reforms with a foreign policy which was little short of disastrous.  He wanted Bavaria (why for gods sake?) but only succeeded in pissing off the Prussians.  He wanted his Belgian subjects to have freedom to navigate the Scheldt river (which they were barred by treaty from doing) but only succeeded in pissing off the French.  He fostered closer ties with Russia which was a good idea but led him into a war with Turkey which he lost.

By the end of his reign it is fair to say that the only people among his subjects who didn't dislike him were those who positively hated him.  He gave up.  He revoked all his reforms, turned his face to the wall and died.  His brother Leopold who inherited the mess spent most of his brief reign reassuring everyone who would listen that he didn't plan any reforms at all.

Organic Mousse

There are some kinds of facts which are a dead end.  Yes, they're useful to know and they assist us in various ways but that's it, there isn't any further we can go.  Then there is the other kind of facts, those facts which, upon learning them, promote more questions.  "Miranda Kerr's mother sells organic tooth mousse" is such a fact.  With that simple statement several fruitful lines of enquiry are immediately opened such as "What the hell is organic tooth mousse?", "Who on earth would buy such a product?" and (in my case) "Who is Miranda Kerr?"

Organic tooth mousse it turns out is a rather clever way of charging people $20 for a tube of toothpaste.  But its got to be better than mere toothpaste because it is a) mousse and b) organic.  How wonderful is that.  Until you look at the ingredients list.  True most of the things mentioned are definitely organic even if you're probably more used to seeing most of them in essential oils or even herbal tea but the active ingredient (as it is with most toothpastes) is sodium bicarbonate.  If I remember my high school chemistry sodium bicarbonate isn't organic at all.  As a matter of fact I think the technical term is "inorganic".  The website selling the stuff attempts to skate over this by claiming it is "traditional sodium bicarbonate" as opposed to that modern sodium bicarbonate crap that's probably made in China and tested on animals or political prisoners (as a sidebar I wonder which would upset the purchasers more?).

What organic tooth mousse proves is that first some people will buy anything and secondly that there is always somebody who is willing to sell it to them.  Lest we get too cocky about our perceived superiority to such people allow me to remind everyone that our entire economy basically consists of spending money we don't have to buy crap we don't need.  Anybody who has a problem with that is certainly a communist and probably an environmentalist into the bargain.  Neither are famous for being able to run an economy.

I did wonder about calling it "mousse".  Of course just calling it toothpaste would let the cat out of the bag but one can easily (very easily actually) imagine the sort of people who would buy such a thing putting it in their hair by mistake.  I admit that when I hear the word mousse I think of something I can put in my hair (or possibly mount on my wall).  Then I realised it was a stroke of genius.  What they should really do now is remove the word "tooth" and let the customers put the stuff where they like.  I don't know what sodium bicarbonate does to the hair but the rest of the ingredients are pretty harmless and when you think about it $20 may be a bit of a steep price for a toothpaste but its not bad for a decent hair styling product.

If they marketed the product as simply "organic mousse" the customer could decide where to put it; on their teeth, in their hair, under the armpits.  Possibly they could smear it all over their body for that desirable silky skin (that's still desirable right? Or am I thinking of terriers?).  The applications are endless and with any luck the applications will be endless.

Which just leaves Miranda Kerr.  According to various pitying females at work Miranda Kerr is a model (of what wasn't specified) and furthermore she is a Victoria Secret's Angel.  As near as I can determine Victoria Secret's Angels are rather like Charlie's Angels only with less emphasis on crime fighting and more on hanging around in underwear with a pair of wings strapped to their back.  In defence of this as a career I should point out that its an indoor job with no heavy lifting.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Another Silly After Action Report

In 1941 Mussolini was riding high.  His military had set new standards in ineptitude and humiliation and he had backed it up with a political performance worthy of a retarded gibbon.  He felt he was ready for the big league.  Imagine his outrage then when Hitler sneakily invaded the Soviet Union without telling him.  Desperate to cock up mightily on the biggest stage of all he implored Hitler to allow the Italians to take part in the "Crusade Against Bolshevism".  Hitler's smile grew a little fixed and sweat sprang out on his forehead.  Behind Mussolini's back Hitler's generals were making desperate throat slitting gestures with their hands but ultimately fascist sentiment won out against common sense and Hitler graciously permitted the Italians to join in.

Vaguely aware that the Soviet Union was rather big the Italian high command dug around in the dustiest corners of their order of battle to see if they could find some troops that were mobile.  They gathered together the 3rd Celere division and two "truckable" infantry divisions, the 9th Pasubio and the 52nd Torino.  A celere division was made by combining not enough motorised infantry with too few tanks and padding out the numbers with a horsed cavalry regiment.  The result had the weaknesses of an armoured unit (not enough supporting infantry), the weaknesses of an infantry unit (insufficient supporting armour) and buried them both knee deep in horseshit.  Another problem immediately became apparent with the infantry divisions.  "Truckable" it appears didn't actually mean "trucked" just that the division was capable of being trucked.  In actual fact between them the two divisions had enough trucks to truckable just one of them.  The Pasubio drew the short straw, gathered all the available transport and with the 3rd Celere became the point unit of the Italian advance.  In the early days all was smooth, the Soviets were retreating and the Italians followed just quickly enough so that they didn't catch them.  From time to time, however the Soviets posted a rearguard to cover the withdrawal of other elements and on the 12th of August the Pasubio walked face first into one.

The ensuing battle cut up the Italian vanguard and killed their commander.  The Italians were up to the challenge.  Swiftly reorganising under a cover of skilfully contrived incoherent chaos they dialled in some artillery support and attacked again.  This is Scenario TAC 54 "In the Name of Rome".  I shall command the Italians in their renewed attack on the village of Jasnaya Polyana while Jeremy Dibben attempts to defend this little patch of Mother Russia (the Ukraine actually) from its less than enthusiastic attackers.

Jeremy had a dozen first line Soviet squads to hold the line.  They have a pair of medium machine guns, a pair of light machine guns two rather cute little mortars and a honking big mortar.  Leading this force are three officers including an 8-1.  A radio holds out the promise of artillery support for them as well.  Six foxholes allow them to cover some otherwise difficult to defend areas.  As for me, well what the Italians lack in coordination they make up for in numbers.  I have four bersaglieri squads and seven ordinary first line squads on the board at set up looking uneasily at a fair chunk of open ground that needs to be crossed before they get to the buildings they have to capture.  These squads have a pair of very small mortars, a trio of light machine guns and a heavy machine gun.  They also have a mortar of equivalent honking bigness to its Russian counterpart.  Then there are the reinforcements.  On turn one four more first line squads appear on the western edge of the playing area (the objectives are all in the east) dragging a pair of dismantled mortars and a medium machine gun.  On turn three six elite squads (exactly equivalent to the Soviet first liners I'm facing) turn up from the south and on turn five a pair of first line squads wander in from the north.  On turn two I also get artillery support with a guaranteed fire mission.  This is absolutely vital because without some smoke cover the Italians aren't going anywhere.

The target village is in the northeast quadrant of the map and I had to take fifteen buildings while not losing more than twenty five CVP in doing so.  To the south the village is flanked by forest and then wheat fields but to the west there are patches of open ground interspersed with orchards and more wheat with a few outlying buildings which seemed ideal for a delaying position.  One problem I had was that the Italian attack pretty much started from where the last one was stopped which meant defensible terrain was thin on the ground.  In the north was a little forest but for the rest I would have to hide in orchards and try and look like a fruit tree.

Jeremy had set up his defenses to cover both the front and his southern flank where he could expect my elite reinforcements but he had set up one squad a little too far forward without support and placed another couple of units in and around those outlying buildings previously mentioned.  My plan was to use my big mortar to try and drop a little smoke to cut down his lines of sight and then smash his temptingly forward squad with a hmg position while my baby mortars at least attracted the attention of his more southerly defenders and the remainder of my infantry edge very carefully forward.  My turn one reinforcements would sidle up on my right (south) taking advantage of intermittent patches of trees to hopefully get near the battle without harm (failed).  That was it, hopefully when I got my artillery in turn two I would be able to convert this into a full blooded attack under decent smoke cover.

Things actually went rather well in turn one.  My hmg smashed his isolated squad which turned out to be nursing both a lmg and a mortar, neither of which Jeremy saw again and a well placed smoke shell from my mortar managed to create enough of a hindrance for me to scoot a couple of squads forward and take his squad prisoner.  From there slinking behind grain would help them ease along the northern side of the board towards his main defences.  I pushed forward modestly in the centre while my baby mortars did no harm but at least reminded Jeremy they existed.  My reinforcements, having asked for directions to the shooting headed in that direction with varying degrees of enthusiasm.  Jeremy set up a well placed firelane with his medium machine gun which broke a squad and led to some balletic manoeuvres as I attempted to find a way past it.  In his turn Jeremy called in his artillery and let his intentions be known by targeting the very woods hexes I had hoped my reinforcements might use to get to the fighting.

Turn two saw my artillery arrive but rather than help the front which I thought was doing OK I dropped a smoke concentration around some of his southern defenders hoping to ease the path of my elite reinforcements.  Jeremy whose artillery had to make do with mere high explosive smashed two of my reinforcing squads (although others survived the metal rain without a scratch).  My onboard force in the south (now consisting of one squad) moved up to the outlying buildings in the southern area of the village while the bulk was scooting behind the grain heading for the village proper.  One squad scooped up his abandoned lmg and looked to add some firepower to the rather lean force hoping that grain would provide adequate protection from mmg fire.  Fortunately at this point Jeremy broke the machine gun and what was left of my reinforcements edged a little closer to the action.  My large mortar had broken a squad in the outlying buildings and odds there were now almost even.  Minor disaster was approaching in the north though.  One of Jeremy's defending units firing at long range, through wheatfields naturally gained a snake eyes on my leading units.  In response I rolled boxcars.  A leader dead and subsequent rolls broke the squad as well.

Still turn three didn't look too bad.  I had a shortage of troops in the south but the north (despite the bloody nose) was looking strong and my elite reinforcements were due.  Not before time.  Jeremy revealed his big mortar and promptly gained a critical hit on the long suffering turn one reinforcements who had just managed to struggle out of artillery fire.  An officer and a half squad were killed and the remaining half squad was reduced to a broken conscript but then something wonderful happened.  Following up that shot with another he inflicted another morale check on the half squad.  The result was a heat of battle roll.  The result of that roll produced that most beautiful of things, the beserk Italian conscript halfsquad.  There is nothing more expendable on the battlefield and with a morale of ten it takes quite a bit of expending.  Just for artistry I placed another smoke concentration to cover more of his southern defenders and then I brought on my six elite squads.  Since my southern front was in tatters (beserk halfsquad not withstanding) I sent a couple of squads up through the grain to support them but the other four I brought on with their leader as far east as I could.  Now Jeremy's flank protection was choking in smoke, his front was holding but definitely occupied and I could slowly ease forward in the north. 

In my opinion Jeremy had made an error.  He had put a delaying force up front but then left quite a gap between it and his village garrison.  This allowed me to attack the delaying force without his extra troops in the village being able to help.  Considering the casualties I took without that assistance their presence might have been decisive.

Turn four started with me looking good in the north, threadbare in the centre (but with a beserk halfsquad ready to cut loose) and my troops ploughing through the grain towards his almost impotent southern flank.  The combined firepower of four elite squads broke the only defender not wreathed in smoke and I pushed into the woods covering the south of the village.  The beserker covered itself in glory charging towards an enemy, soaking up a mass of firepower and allowing other units to move before finally succumbing to the weight of bullets.  My two elite squads finally came up on my south centre and my baby mortarmen abandoned their charges and moved forward to fill the gaps in my ranks.  In the north I finally mustered the firepower to start breaking some of his village garrison and Jeremy had to shuffle troops north to stop a breakthrough.  Things were even looking better in the centre. I had one squad in one of the outlying buildings, Jeremy had a squad in another and I had another squad adjacent to his one hiding behind a wall.  The wall had writing on it so rather than wait I plunged into close combat and a miracle happened.  A lax Italian squad managed to ambush its Soviet target.  I promptly withdrew into another building and now I had two (of three) outlying buildings and the combined firepower of my two guys would drive him out of the third.

Jeremy's artillery amused itself pounding a collection of my broken units in the trees but couldn't actually do them any more harm.  Thanks to the attention of my two elite squads I had driven off his medium machine gun squad and seized the weapon for my own.  The last surviving element of my first lot of reinforcements (those guys took a dreadful pounding) pushed through and captured the first of my buildings in the village proper.  My other elite troops swept through the forest and were poised to capture buildings in the south.  My troops in the north were now in a pinning role occupying the attention of Jeremy's survivng forces which meant that when the two squads that made up my turn five reinforcements turned up and started moving towards unguarded buildings there wasn't a lot he could do about it.  Jeremy conceded at that point and while there were still three turns to go it was difficult to see what he could do.  I had three forces poised to occupy buildings and he had the wherewithal to stop perhaps one of them.  Despite the way it turned out I was nowhere near confident of victory until the beginning of turn five as I realised Jeremy had no way to stop my reinforcements.  For the first three turns I pushed forward aggressively and lost a lot of men in doing so.  At one point I wondered if I would have anything left to actually occupy buildings once I got there.  In turn four pressure (and smoke assisted flanking) began to tell and I was able to breathe a little easier.  Thanks to Jeremy for a great game and for putting up with my swearing, particularly when he insisted on rolling snake eyes.