Monday, April 28, 2014

Birthday Greetings # 37

Happy birthday to Otho, Roman emperor.  Having written the first sentence I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to continue.  Otho was emperor of those parts of the empire that bothered to pay attention to him for a couple of months in the year AD 69 which a few months (and a couple more emperors) later would become famous as "the Year of the Four Emperors".

Having irritated everybody so badly that even he noticed Nero had committed suicide (with the assistance of a slave since he didn't have the guts to do it himself).  In his place a bloke named Galba who had been harmlessly governing Hispania Tarraconensis appointed himself emperor.  Galba would have been wise to take a closer look at the governor of neighbouring Lusitania who joined him on his trip to Rome.

Said governor was our boy Otho.  Otho had got the job of governor in quite a traditional manner, Nero had appointed him to get him out of Rome while Nero slept with his wife.  Since his only reputation up until that point was as one of Nero's party boys it probably surprised him as much as anyone else when he turned out to be reasonably good at the job.  As his wife had divorced him and married Nero (who kicked her to death while she was pregnant) Otho certainly felt that he owed Nero no favours and he supported Galba.  Since Galba was old and childless he may well have felt that he was in a good position to inherit the empire when Galba laid down life's weary burden.  Technically, he was correct.

Galba got to Rome and proceeded to annoy everybody.  Most importantly from our point of view "everybody" included the Praetorian Guard.  When Galba adopted a young man as his heir Otho realised his hopes were in peril.  For once this easy going, overly relaxed young man moved swiftly.  A quiet chat with the praetorians, the handing over of all the cash he could lay his hands on, a quick acclamation in the praetorian camp, the brutal beating to death of Galba and his adoptive son in the street and suddenly Otho was emperor.  See kids, that's how its done.

So, Otho was now emperor; he moved into the palace, took over Nero's catamite who was still hanging around and settled down to rule.  The praetorians loved him because he paid them (one of their major beefs with Galba was that he refused to bribe them), the population of Rome loved him because of his association with Nero (it was principally the ruling class that didn't like Nero) and the ruling class were impressed with the signs he gave that he didn't actually intend to rule like Nero.  So far so good.  Unfortunately that's as far as good went.  Leafing through Galba's paperwork Otho discovered that there was another rebellion going on.  The legions on the Rhine had declared one of their officers, a guy named Vitellius, as emperor and he was currently engaged in marching on Rome.

Otho pulled together the troops that were near him and marched to meet them.  He was advised to wait, his principal support came from legions based further away.  They were coming but he should have waited until they arrived before he joined battle.  Instead he won a minor victory against Vitellius' advance guard and it seems to have gone to his head.  He marched his army against the Rhine legions.  Splitting his force he sent part of it across the Po River to the village of Bedriacum while he held a reserve at Brixellum (I have no idea where either place is but the mention of the Po River indicates northern Italy which is good enough for a biography of this calibre).  The Battle of Bedriacum was hard fought but the Othonian forces were defeated.  All need not have been lost.  Otho still had a significant force under his command and his reinforcements were due any day but he seems to have decided that the game wasn't worth it.

With a quote that Mr Spock from Star Trek would have been proud of he said it was far better for one to die for many than for many to die for one.  He then stabbed himself with a dagger (no slave needed to guide his trembling hand).  During his life he never really shook off the tag of being Nero's good time boy but a lot of people found a new respect for him in the manner of his death.  Which didn't stop the empire ripping itself apart in another civil war because before Vitellius had rinsed Otho's perfume off the throne news came in that another general named Vespasian had also formally applied for the position of emperor.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

I'd Settle For an Immoral Victory

What is a "moral victory"?  A moral victory is what we used to call a defeat before we became too politically correct to use such a pejorative term.  When a person squats wretchedly in the smoking wreckage of his hopes and dreams they attempt to rationalise, or at least ward off suicide, by claiming to have won a "moral victory".  Similarly when activists feel very strongly about some issue or other and they placard and sign petitions and come out onto the streets in defence of their cause and as a result absolutely nothing changes then they too frequently claim to have won a moral victory.  No matter that all they have done is convince some people who agreed with them anyway that they agree with them (who "they" and "them" are is largely irrelevant as they tend to be the same people).

What is interesting is the position occupied by the moral victory in the victory pecking order.  That order goes something like this;

Crushing Victory
Minor Victory
Partial Victory
Moral Victory

This gives us a pretty good idea of where the "moral" aspect sits in our appreciation of victories.  Morality, apparently, is something that we only consider once we've exhausted every other possibility for claiming victory.  Nobody ever trumpeted their moral victory if they had an actual victory to boast about.  The most they might claim is that their victory proved their morality.  You have to be pretty desperate to do it the other way round.  So, no surprises there then.

I wonder how much effort we would go to in order to achieve a moral victory?  By that I don't mean accepting it as a consolation prize when everything else goes to shit but actually straining every fibre and being prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in the sure and certain knowledge that a moral victory is all that can be achieved.  I don't even mean sacrificing oneself for a cause to gain a moral victory as a stepping stone to full victory later.  I mean, the moral victory is all you get.  Ever!  I suspect there are very few people who would be prepared to accept a moral victory on those terms.  Those that would we cheerfully categorise as stubborn, irrational and possibly insane.  This seems a rather harsh judgement on people who are prepared to sacrifice their all in a hopeless cause simply because they know it's right.  It would be easier to feel sympathy for such people if they weren't so obviously stubborn, irrational and possibly insane.

Some people might think that the above is a somewhat harsh comment on people, moral victories and morality generally but I like to think that by writing it down I have won a moral victory.  Ah success!  Its so much easier when the bar is low.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Paschal the Lamb and Trevor the Dessert

Religious holidays were invented in 1793 to provide people with a plausible excuse to visit their parents.  Easter was officially promulgated a few years later after intense lobbying from the Catholic church's chocolate marketing division.  Since that time the holiday has become increasingly popular, particularly among Christians.

In keeping with tradition and not at all because I wanted a free meal I undertook the journey to the Blue Mountains and the bosom of my family which is located there along with the rest of my family's anatomy.  For a change and somewhat to my surprise I travelled by train.  There has been a rail link between my home and the Blue Mountains for over fifty years but in my experience the presence of actual trains on it is a somewhat rare occurrence.  Somewhat tentatively I settled down into a long metal box and waited to see if it would take me where I wanted to go.

I was visiting my parents to help them to eat Paschal the Lamb.  I must confess I found the idea of giving a pet name to something you're about to eat slightly creepy but my mother informed me I had misread the invitation and I was being invited to eat a Paschal lamb.  Whatever mum, if you serve up a dessert called Trevor I am out of there.  Just as soon as I've finished Trevor of course.

Much to my relief a little research confirmed that the Paschal lamb is indeed a special sort of lamb eaten at Easter.  It is special because it is eaten at Easter and thus gets its own name unlike the anonymous cutlets I had for dinner last night.  The Paschal lamb represents the lamb of God which in turn represents Christ in his role as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity.  To show our gratitude we eat it.  Its no wonder the Romans thought Christians were cannibals.

Actually the whole Paschal lamb tradition is derived from a much older Jewish tradition which should surprise nobody as the whole of Christianity is derived from a much older Jewish tradition called Judaism.  At Passover a lamb was sacrificed, offerings were made and everybody sat down to eat.  Not surprisingly lamb featured prominently on the menu.  Apparently the sacrifice doesn't happen much anymore.  An attempt was made to revive it but ran into difficulty from PETS (People for the Ethical Treatment of Sacrifices).  It has to be admitted that a clear headed reading of the ritual makes it sound less like a sacrifice and more like an autopsy where the subject starts off alive.  Personally I think God would be just as happy if we shot the thing in the head or ran it down with our car as long as we gave appropriate thanks for our keen aim or lousy driving.

Still I find it difficult to be too critical of a religion that insists on sacrificing delicious things.  What if God had demanded the sacrifice of a raffia basket?  How the hell would we have eaten that?  And lets not even get into what the Aztecs were sacrificing.  Then the sacrificial meal really would have had a name and if the subject was a family member things would have been awkward to say the least.  The Aztecs knew all about chocolate so we could still have had Easter but I doubt if the chocolate treats would have been shaped like eggs and they certainly wouldn't have been delivered by something as cute and harmless as a bunny.  I suspect with the Aztecs in charge children would be cowering in their homes fearing a visit from the
Easter jaguar.  And if Christ did rise on the third day his first comment would have been, "Right, where did those bastards put my heart?"

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Icebergs, Polar Bears and Sledge Patrol Sirius

It occurs to me that I have seriously neglected Greenland in my blog so far.  Whole months go by without a reference to the world's second largest island.  Frankly I don't know how the population of Greenland survives.  Actually I'm very unsure how exactly the population of Greenland does survive.  OK so most of them are concentrated on the south west coast which is the warmest and most habitable part but in Greenland that's a very relative term.

Greenland is an autonomous nation under the Danish crown which is one of those recently created political euphemisms which allow the locals a fair measure of independence from their harsh colonial overlords while simultaneously retaining access to their welfare system.  Plans for full independence have been put on the backburner until such times as the Greenlanders think they can afford it.

But why is Greenland ruled, even notionally, by Denmark?  Well like most places that were both freezing cold and possessed of water access Greenland underwent a sudden influx of Vikings.  The Vikings were an odd bunch. They traded and raided anywhere there was water enough to float a longship but seemed to confine their colonial efforts to the bleakest parts of the world they could find.  Many of the original Viking settlers of Greenland came from Iceland.  Apparently Iceland wasn't cold, rugged and difficult to live in enough for them.  The Viking colonies survived for a number of centuries but eventually died out as a result of decreasing temperatures, increasing conflict with the local Inuit and, apparently, a peculiar reluctance to eat fish.  The Inuit being less picky in their dietary habits are still there.

Despite the ultimate failure of the Viking settlements Greenland remained vaguely in Scandinavian minds and in the eighteenth century a half Norwegian, half Danish bloke established a new colony in Greenland populated mainly by mutinous soldiers and disease riddled prostitutes.  Strangely it has survived to the present day.  Possibly they were prepared to eat fish.

Roughly while the Vikings were arriving in the southwest the Inuit were arriving in the north (by roughly I mean "give or take a couple of hundred years").  The Vikings and Inuit got on pretty well with each other by the simple expedient of pretty much ignoring each others existence.  The Vikings were farmers, the Inuit were hunters.  Normally that's a recipe for disaster as farming colonies tend to expand outwards looking for more arable land at the expense of the hunters (its certainly what happened in Australia and North America) but the Vikings had already settled pretty much the only bits of Greenland that could be farmed and had very little use for the rest.  It wasn't until the dropping temperatures ruined much of the existing farmland that the increasingly desperate Vikings started challenging the Inuit for the hunting grounds.  The Inuit are still there and the Vikings aren't so we know how that went.

Still the Danes are at least officially in charge and to protect their interest they have something called Sledge Patrol Sirius.  This is a specialist unit operating under the Danish navy which patrols northeast Greenland.  Just to make it more fun they do that patrolling in Winter (even in Greenland operating a dog sled in Summer can be problematic).  Contrary to what I wrote in an earlier blog entry the members of Sirius are armed.  They carry M1917 Enfield rifles (an American variant of the more famous British Lee-Enfield), bolt action weapons tend to be somewhat less prone to freezing solid than more modern automatic firearms.  They have also just swapped out their hand guns for something with more stopping power as apparently they were finding it difficult to take down polar bears.

The majority consensus of Greenland seems to be that ultimate independence is desirable but should be delayed until such times as Greenland can support itself economically.  "What do we want?  Independence!  When do we want it?  When we can afford it!" might not be the most inspiring battlecry I've ever heard but its certainly one of the most sensible.  Meanwhile the Greenlanders are doing their best to diversify their economy and are positively looking forward to global warming in the hopes it will free up some farmland and provide access to the undoubted mineral wealth current located under glaciers and buried in permafrost.

Until that happy day the Greenlanders live on their beautiful, half frozen island quietly preparing for independence in a fiscally responsible way and protected by the fourteen members of Sledge Patrol Sirius.

I really want to go to Greenland.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Laying Flat

In keeping with my somewhat pathetic attempts to become familiar with various social media I have recently been introduced to the concept of the flat lay.  A flat lay, apparently, is where one lays some objects flat, photographs them and then uploads them for the edification of the masses should the masses be remotely interested.  Some people use it as a method of cheekily advertising products they really hope the manufacturers will send them free samples of in return for the free advertising.  Apparently this works although if I were a manufacturer I would probably risk the fact that such people are likely to indulge in fits of promotional activity anyway and I wouldn't send them a damn thing.  I don't know whether I'm too cynical or not enough.

Still, I have somewhat belatedly jumped on this particular bandwagon in the hopes of garnering a few more blog hits.  I would say I'm a social media whore but whores get paid so I'm going have to settle for being a social media slut.  In an attempt to provide an excuse no matter how transparent for taking and uploading the photo at all let us use it as a psychological tool.  I wonder how many people realise exactly how much they are saying about themselves when they upload these photos.  In this blog entry I'll do the hard work for you.

Consider the photo above.  What does it say about me?  Firstly there is the fact that I took it at all.  Then there is the fact that I used it as the basis for a blog entry.  So right away you can tell that I'm easily suggestible ("oh everybody's doing flat lays nowadays) and secondly that I'm terribly eager to have people read my blog although I'm not actually prepared to select topics that might actually interest many people.  This shows that I have a pathetic need for validation from complete strangers while being too lazy to actually go and suck up to them properly by writing stuff they might take an interest in.

Moving on.  The background of the photo is obviously a table.  This indicates that it is likely that I possess a table and by extrapolation somewhere to keep such table.  It also indicates I possess a camera or at least an iphone.  Thus I am not totally bereft of material possessions.  Of course its always possible I borrowed all of the above and I actually write this blog in the public library in between sleeping in a garbage skip but the likelihood is that I have a table containing domicle or at least a storage unit.

Moving from the strategic to the tactical let us examine each of the objects in the photo.  The largest is the book on Byzantium.  This tells you I have an interest in the subject, and possibly history in general.  The somewhat battered condition of the book indicates many readings and can safely be assumed to be a favourite.  Obviously either the author or the subject material appeals. 

The second and smaller book is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.  What this tells you is that I'm the sort of pretentious wanker who would include a book of philosophical musings by an ancient Roman emperor in his flat lay photo.  I am no doubt hoping to give the impression of a being a refined and intellectual person but I'm probably looking more like a desperate try hard.

Above the second book is a packet of cigarettes which doesn't tell you too much about me but does give you a fair indication of what is likely to be written on my death certificate.  To the right of the books are dice but not just any dice.  They are brightly coloured dice such as might be used for either fantasy games or board games (if you've worked out that I don't have a girlfriend by this stage, congratulations, you're keeping up).  Above the cigarettes is a pen.  This implies that I use such an item and since pretty much everything else appears to be recreational rather than professional it can be safely assumed that I use it recreationally.

Finally there is a little plastic cat.  For those who don't know it is actually Mad Cat from the Inspector Gadget cartoons.  This probably tells you all you need to know about both my sense of humour and my level of maturity.

So a brief analysis of the above photo indicates that I'm a lazy, bookish, slightly pretentious individual without much regard for his health and a penchant for indoor hobbies that don't involve physical activity.  Oh yes and I have a rather childish sense of humour.  Those who know me need not comment on exactly how accurate this assessment is.  Everybody else take a close look at your own flat lays and try and figure out what you're telling the world.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Summon Up the Dead (Quolls and Lynxes First)

There was an article in the paper the other day titled "the Passionate Conservationist".  The article had something to do with quolls which I thought were a subatomic particle but are apparently small fuzzy cute things.  They are also something at least on conservationist is passionate about.

What really grabbed me was the title; "the Passionate Conservationist".  I have to admit I thought that being passionate would be part of the job description for a conservationist.  It's quite difficult to imagine a dispassionate conservationist.  "Yeah, save the trees I guess but, you know, whatever".  I can't imagine too many quolls being saved with an attitude like that.

Actually quolls don't need to be saved so much as reanimated.  The quoll in question is extinct on the Australian mainland (Tasmania being somewhat behind the times still has some left) and this apparently passionate individual is passionately breeding them in the hopes of being able to reintroduce them into the wild where apparently they will be able to breed without supervision.  One can't help thinking they might do it a bit better without supervision.

Still on dead things breeding apparently the eurasian lynx has been reintroduced into the Harz Mountain region of Germany over a century after the last one died.  Its early days but experts are hoping that a viable colony can be built in the Harz.  Which leads to an interesting point about conservation.  Quite often we don't actually have to do all that much to ensure the preservation of endangered species.

Take the Harz Mountains.  Yes, they it is of the least developed parts of Germany and the area is a nature reserve now but that's actually a recent development.  While we may not have built huge cities there the Harz have been used by humans for centuries for farming (where it was flat enough) mining (where it wasn't), timber, hunting and V-2 missile factories.  Much of the tree cover was artificially introduced to replace those stripped out by mining operations which also added their own unique and difficult to remove ingredients to the water table.  Despite all of this the Harz is one of the most beautiful "natural" regions of Germany.  Even the dying out of the lynxes had less to do with environmental degradation and more to do with the fact that farmers persisted in shooting them.  There is actually a plaque commemorating where the last one was shot.  A sort of "hooray the lynx is dead" monument.  The principal role of those reintroducing the lynxes was to get guarantees from the local farmers that they wouldn't start shooting them again.

Despite comments on the fragility of ecosystems nature will tend to find a way to survive if its given half a chance.  In many cases it would seem that the most effective conservation measure we can take is to stop actively killing the animal in question.  Nature will take care of much of the rest itself.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Birthday Greetings # 36

Happy birthday to Septimus Severus, Roman emperor.  Septimus was born in Libya (which seems to be getting bit of a run in my blog of late) to mixed Roman and Punic heritage.  His family was wealthy and moderately distinguished (although there were a couple of consuls among them).  Deciding to pursue what modern politicians euphemistically call "a career in public service" Severus went to Rome and through the good offices of a relative attempted to get some good offices.

Promotion was slow at first but after a fortuitous plague which gutted the ranks of the higher orders (it probably gutted the ranks of the lower orders as well but Septimus wasn't competing with them for jobs) his career really took off.  A series of increasingly important positions proved he was at least as capable as anyone else who had survived the plague and in 191 the emperor Commodus appointed him commander of the legions in Pannonia.  He was still there when his troops proclaimed him emperor in place of the guy who replaced the guy who replaced Commodus.  This was only two years later.  The life expectancy of the average Roman emperor was about twenty five minutes.

Severus marched on Rome but the whole thing turned into an anticlimax as the Senate murdered the incumbent emperor without waiting for him and all he had to do on arrival was settle in.  Oh yes and beat the other guy that various people in Rome had invited to become emperor.  The trouble with the Roman empire (as later emperors would realise) was that it was so damned big that news took a fair while to get from one place to another.  With emperors coming and going before the mint had even finished issuing the commemorative coinage it was very easy to rise in revolt against somebody who was already dead.  Severus beat his challenger (one Niger by name) and followed it up with a whirlwind campaign against the Parthians which he more or less won.  A couple of years later he came back and definitely won just in case anybody had had any doubts about the results of the previous war.  The fact that he had to come back indicates that one of the people with doubts was himself.

Naturally this wasn't the end of his troubles. Clodius Albinus, the governor of Britannia, had been making emperor like noises and Severus had appointed him caesar, with a distinct hint of a possible succession while he was dealing with Niger.  This kept Albinus off his back at a crucial moment but when he thought he was safe Severus made his son Caracalla co-emperor effectively scotching any hopes Albinus might have had.  Albinus responded in a mature and considered fashion; he stripped Britain of troops and invaded Gaul.  Another battle followed at which Albinus was killed and Severus finally settled down to rule the empire in, well, peace is not exactly the term but possibly "in war with people who weren't Romans".

The Senate of Rome hated him because he killed a lot of senators on various conspiracy and corruption charges.  The common people of Rome loved him for pretty much the same reasons.  The army was also quite fond of him due to his morale boosting action of increasing their pay by two thirds.  Also quite a bit of the army that might have been inclined to dislike him was now dead.  Naturally he had to fall under the influence of a senior official who was also a member of his extended family.  This was pretty much de rigeur for emperors of the time and the elite of Rome lived in fear of this favourite and son in law by marriage.  Unfortunately for him the son in question was Caracalla who started as he meant to go on by accusing the guy of treason (accurately) and having him murdered in the imperial palace.  Sadly for the senate this didn't actually slow down the rate of senatorial executions.

The reign of Severus was quite active in a military sense.  There was a successful war in Africa and the southern part of Scotland (then called Caledonia in deference to the fact that the Scots wouldn't turn up for several centuries) between Hadrian's wall and the Antonine wall was reoccupied and generally pacified.  One can't help thinking that part of his method of keeping the army under control was to make sure it was fully employed.  But Severus overreached himself when he decided to conquer the rest of Scotland (sorry, Caledonia) for reasons which nobody has been quite able to decipher.  The Caledonians resorted to guerrilla warfare which caused his army huge losses without him ever being able to bring them to battle.  Still guerrilla war is as tough on the guerrillas as it is on their enemies and the Caledonians sued for peace.  A year later they changed their minds and Severus decided on a new tactic called genocide.  Fortunately for the Caledonians he sickened and died before he could really carry it out.

Septimus Severus was emperor for about eighteen years which was longer than the previous three combined.  With two sons he felt confident that he had ensured lasting stability for Rome in the form of a reliable dynasty.  His last advice to his two sons was famously "stick together, favour the army, to hell with everybody else".  Sage advice, sadly his hopes for a long and distinguished dynasty foundered on the fact that his eldest son, Caracalla, turned out to be a homicidal maniac.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Another Silly After Action Report

In 1911 Italy seized Libya as part of its spoils in a recently concluded war with the Ottoman Empire.  Why?  The only rational reason seems to be that Italy came rather late to the colonial race and all the good bits of Africa had already been taken.  It was much the same thinking that led them to invade Ethiopia a little over twenty years later.  Having saddled itself with Libya the Italians attempted to play the role of colonial master.  They settled the fertile bits and did their best to ignore the other 95%.  At some point, apparently to protect this glittering jewel in their crown from the predatory British they constructed a vast barbed wire fence running for several hundred kilometres along the Libyan-Egyptian border.  Since they neither patrolled the fence nor constructed effective fortifications behind it the Wire as it became known imposed, in the words of one military historian "a five minute delay on any Bedouin with wire cutters in his blanket roll and a girlfriend on the other side."  Then on the 10th of June 1940 Mussolini declared war on France and Britain and the Wire came into its own as a perfectly useless waste of scarce defence funds.

The British forces in Egypt, specifically the 11th Hussars (Earl Cardigan's cherrypickers for those who read Flashman), had no difficulty in making their way through the unguarded wire.  On the very night of Mussolini's declaration the Cherrypickers crossed the wire and cheerfully shot up an Italian military convoy, much to the outrage of the occupants.  Apparently while Mussolini had informed the public, his allies and his enemies that Italy was at war he hadn't actually bothered to inform his troops in the field.  That pretty much set the scene for how the war in the desert would go for Italy.  Still not even the Italians were prepared to let it go at that and after a few nights of getting their outposts shot up they decided to reinforce their frontier garrisons. 

Which is why on the 16th of June a patrol of the 11th Hussars encountered a long line of Italian trucks "protected", for want of a better word, by a gaggle of their perfectly wretched L3 light tanks.  This then is ASL Scenario A61, Across the Wire which pits armoured cars of the 11th Hussars against the 9th Light Tank Battalion of the Italian army with a collection of Italian lorries in a supporting role.  Ivan Kent and I sat down to play this at Bears this month.  Ivan had never played a desert scenario before and this one was a nice intro with some special rules but not an excessive amount and a manageable number of vehicles.  As the defending Italians I had an onboard force of twelve trucks (useless) and six L3s (almost useless) set up nose to tail in single file along a track heading north.  Ivan's initial force consisted of two (count them) armoured cars, one Morris and one Rolls Royce each with a -1 armour leader which would sweep in from the east and attempt to do execution amongst the Italian column.  Ivan would get another pair of Rolls Royces and another Morris on turn three to help him out.  To reinforce my onboard troops I would get a trio of L3s on turn two and another three on turn three two of which would be mounting the 20L antitank rifle in place of their usual machine gun armament.  The most formidable piece of firepower I possessed was a 65mm gun carried portee style in one of the trucks.  My first order of business would be to get that gun unloaded and in action before Ivan turned the truck it was travelling in to scrap. 

To win Ivan's British had to amass six or greater victory points than the Italians.  Victory points essentially were gained by killing vehicles and their crews.  Each truck was worth two points and each L3 was worth two plus another two if their crew didn't survive.  In turn any armoured car of Ivan's I killed was worth three points (plus two more for a dead crew).  Considering the sheer volume of helpless vehicles I had on board Ivan was off to a good start before we began playing.  Starting on turn three my trucks can exit off the north edge of the board without penalty so essentially the game is a running battle with the trucks racing north as fast as they can while the British try and shoot them up before they get there and the L3s in turn trying to hinder the British as they do so.  To add to the Italian's woes their tanks couldn't use platoon movement which means they needed a DR of six or under every turn before they could move at all.  Failure froze them into immobility for the rest of the turn, additionally the Italian tank force was considered "inexperienced" and suffered a +1 modifier to all rolls including shooting.  Since the British were inconsiderate enough to start the battle in the middle of the day intense heat haze was in effect (hampering accurate shooting) and there was light dust present (hampering accurate shooting), additionally each vehicle would throw up dust as it entered a new hex (hampering etc etc).  The difficulty for both of us wouldn't be hitting our opponents but seeing them at all.

I had to set my vehicles up nose to tail facing north on a little track that led to the north edge and freedom.  Naturally I had to set up as far south on this track as I could.  I set the vehicles up with a couple of trucks in the lead and the L3s sprinkled in between them.  Since Ivan could come onto the board anywhere on the east edge I had to give a modicum of protection to the whole column.  In the centre of the column and guarded by L3s fore and aft was the truck carrying my precious 65mm.  This was a potential game breaker as compared with the other weaponry of both sides it was a veritable monster.  Two of my L3s were the rare anti aircraft variant with one of the machine guns mounted on the roof.  I set both of these up with the crew exposed to man these guns since one of the (many, many) weaknesses of the L3 is its lack of a turret.  By manning these exposed guns I had at least two weapons that could actually shoot in a direction other than the one the tank was travelling in.

Ivan brought his cars in separately, one at the very south end of the board to hit the tail of the column and the other closer to the middle to hit its head.  His armoured cars roared up close and pulled up ready for some useful shots next turn.  I took a couple of shots at them for the look of it but gained no results (dust, moving, inexperienced crews, heat haze, small target you get the idea).  In my turn I set my plan in so far as I had one in motion.  The plan was as follows;  The L3s were to charge the armoured cars to give them something to think about apart from killing trucks.  The lead trucks were to stamp on the accelerator and head north as fast as possible.  The trucks in the middle and rear were to move more slowly forward and provide some dust cover for the gun carrying truck which was to stop and unload the 65mm.  With that done they too would head for the hills.

Every single one of my L3s failed its movement roll.  Since they were pointing north and Ivan had come in from the west four of them couldn't really shoot at anything anyway.  Despite this set back my plan unfolded, sort of.  The lead trucks did indeed race north away from immediate danger.  The rear most truck nosed forward, was hit by fire from an armoured car and promptly burst into flames.  What's more it did this while occupying (as I thought, briefly) a hex currently containing one of my L3s which was now choking in smoke and couldn't see a thing.  That L3 would refuse to move for the entire game.  One of the middle trucks making its dash for freedom was destroyed by Ivan's other armoured car, fortunately no flames this time.  In the centre a certain vehicular milling about had produced sufficient dust to provide cover for unloading the gun which I duly did.

Despite the immobile L3s I wasn't disappointed with the turns results, two trucks down (four victory points) it is true but the gun was ready for use, my reinforcements would be on next turn and surely at least some of my L3s would move next time.  Ivan's opportunities for carnage were limited by the fact that he had only two armoured cars.  He attempted to take out a couple of my immobile L3s but the dust etc etc was causing him issues as well.  He moved both cars north to be closer to the fleeing trucks and tried some low odds shots at L3s which didn't come off.  We now had a running battle as the scene of the action left my dismounted gun and burning truck behind.  My gun took a shot at an armoured car but missed.  The L3s did nothing useful.  On my second turn most of my trucks made it to the board edge (they couldn't leave until turn three) and cowered in their newly created dust thinking small thoughts.  Since the battle was now in the north I brought my reinforcements on there (two aaL3s and a normal L3) to provide a wall of (low grade, highly brittle, badly riveted) steel between them and Ivan's cars.  My gun took a second shot at an armoured car and promptly broke itself.  So much for the game changer.  In turn three Ivan brought on his reinforcements, in the north of course, and attempted to bull his way past my L3s.  I had actually managed to get two of my original six moving and had edged a little closer to his vehicles.  Ivan sent one car along the northern board edge and attempted to do execution amongst my trucks but fortunately the dust and movement spoiled his efforts.  One of his cars managed to hit and immobilise an L3 but immobilisation isn't a kill and while my crew initially fled their vehicle when they saw it wasn't blowing up they got back in and gallantly if inefficiently manned the weapons.

On my turn three my truck drivers gave a sob of heartfelt relief and roared off the board.  Ivan tried shooting but some bad luck prevented him getting any hits.  I tried to repair my 65mm gun and only succeeded in breaking it completely.  The only good news was that Ivan had similarly broken the main armament of one of his cars.  Things now looked good for me in my opinion.  Despite the loss of my 65mm the trucks had all left the board and with them easy victory points for Ivan.  From now on he would have to take out L3s which was harder than it looked as they are very small targets and have at least a little armour.  With nine L3s on the board (and three more coming) against five armoured cars I was feeling confident.  The L3s can get a kill or two with a bit of luck and they are quite difficult to hit.  Although Ivan challenged this assertion by hitting them repeatedly.  Ivan now had a car in the south menaced by a trio of L3s, three cars in the centre facing six L3s and one in the far north looking to sneak around behind.  In the only kill I made during the entire game an L3 bagged a Rolls Royce in the centre and Ivan's victory point requirements were looking rough.  They looked even rougher as my remaining L3s rolled up to augment my northern forces.

Sadly the one thing I didn't seem to be able to do with my L3s was move them.  Time after time they failed the movement roll while Ivan waltzed around behind them.  In the course of a brutal turn Ivan killed three L3s while my return fire such as it was didn't even scratch his paint.  To make matters worse in the process of this occurrence I broke the main armament on two of my remaining tanks.  On attempting to repair them both I rolled boxcars and lost them to recall.  Or rather I lost one to recall.  Ivan waited for the other to turn around and then destroyed it with a rear shot.  That happened in the south, up in the north I had finally positioned one of my 20L carrying tanks for a perfect close quarters shot in the rear of an armoured car.  I took the shot and hit.  It would have to be a very unlucky roll to avoid killing it.  It was a very unlucky roll.  At this stage with Ivan's victory points skyrocketing and my force dwindling by the minute I had a severe personal morale failure.  I had destroyed one car and immobilised another with a lucky shot but that was it.  I had one turn to go and Ivan was perfectly placed to kill a couple more of my tanks.  I offered to surrender but then thought damn it no so we played on.  Ivan killed a couple more of my tanks.  I offered to surrender, by this time there really wasn't any option, I had one turn left, most of my remaining vehicles were in dreadful positions due to their refusal to move and even if I had got terribly lucky I doubt if I could have garnered enough points to stop Ivan winning.  So I gave up.  The Italians were probably wondering what took me so long.

Despite a bit of soul crushing towards the end this was actually quite enjoyable with little armoured things whizzing about (on Ivan's side anyway), trucks charging for exits and loads of low likelihood shots being taken simply due to the lack of any other kind.  Thanks to Ivan for the game who probably hasn't heard the word "fuck" quite so many times in one afternoon before and stern disciplinary action against my surviving tanks crews.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Shameless Nutrition Cross Promotion

So, I have a colleague at work who has her own blog.  It's about nutrition or health or food or some such.  All I can really say is it has lots of pictures of food on it which Monique claims are all her own work.  The blog is called cookchewconquer which seems to imply that you can eat your way to world domination.  It is a vastly more popular blog than mine which just goes to show the enduring popularity of either food or world domination.  I'm writing this blog entry in the hopes of clutching onto the claws of this high flying blog as it swoops past.

This means I have to write a blog entry about nutrition.  Nothing simpler; I write about things I don't understand frequently, indeed constantly.  I'm hoping that by writing this entry and posting a link to Monique's blog she will do the same for me on her (as I think I mentioned) much more popular blog.  I expect a payback Monique.

So, nutrition.  What do I know about nutrition?  Well I know how to spell it, that's a start right?  I know its quite important.  Or at least I know that a lot of people think its important which for popularity and revenue generating purposes is pretty much the same thing.  It is important enough to fuel blogs, university courses, lifestyle programs and a whole dietary supplement industry.  Thus nutrition is pretty damn important if only for the number of people it keeps employed.

Having thus confirmed that nutrition is indeed terribly important we can move on to an understanding of what it actually is.  Of course in a sane world we would have come to an understanding first and determined its usefulness later but I think we can all agree that whatever its qualities sanity is not something our world has a surplus of.  Incidentally, that's two sentences in a row that ended with a preposition, Winston Churchill would be outraged.

According to wikipedia, which makes up for its accuracy with its availability, nutrition is "the selection of foods and preparation of foods and their ingestion to be assimilated by the body."  It would appear that every time I visit McDonalds I am practising nutrition.

Naturally there is more to it than this (sorry Ronald).  If one is careful with the aforementioned selection, preparation and ingestion one can be healthier, live longer and have shiny eyes and a glossy coat.  Being healthier and living longer are generally considered to be good things.  They are certainly better than chronic illness followed by a premature death.  At least from the point of view of the protagonist.  Those who know him may have a different view.

Human beings actually managed to survived the first couple of hundred thousand years of their existence without making any more nutritional decisions than "has it stopped moving yet?"  Furthermore it was people on this somewhat dubious diet who moved human civilisation forward to a point where their descendants could be worried about nutrition.  All of which seems to prove that nutrition isn't really necessary.

So if nutrition isn't a necessity what is it?  Well, like most things we think we can't do without its a luxury.  Lest anyone think I'm overeulogising our nutrition challenged ancestors I would point out their life expectancy was short and what life they did have was riddled with diseases many of them due to poor nutrition.  So nutrition is a luxury but a luxury it is very good and useful to have.  Think of nutrition in the same way as you would google or heroin.  Sure you can do without them but after having tried them for a while you really don't want to.