Sunday, July 31, 2016

Birthday Greetings #59

Happy birthday to Publius Helvius Pertinax Augustus more commonly known (now at any rate) as Pertinax.  Pertinax was the first emperor in the period that would become known as "The Year of the Five Emperors".  Already you can tell that things aren't going to turn out well.  But before Pertinax wound up wrapped in "the noblest winding sheet of all" he had quite a staggering career progression.

Pertinax was the son of a freed slave and from there sank to the level of grammar teacher before persuading somebody with clout to give him an officer's commission in a legionary cohort.  Fortunately for Pertinax there seemed to be an abundance of wars for him to prove his competence, against the Parthians mostly but also front line stints in Britain and the Danube frontier.  Pertinax proved himself hard and competent and promotions and membership of the Senate followed.  One can almost imagine the more traditionally minded senators muttering "Ex-slaves, fine but a grammar teacher?  Is this what the Senate has been reduced to?"  The answer was "yes".

Still Pertinax seemed fit to redeem the reputation of grammar teachers everywhere.  A suffect consulship followed plus governorships and an increasing role in the Senate.  One event should have given him a little warning of things to come.  He was sent to Britain as governor largely because the army there was murderous, mutinous and ill disciplined (murderous was all right and ill disciplined could be tolerated but mutinous was a bit of a problem).  Pertinax attempted to restore stern discipline.  The soldiers took it quite well in the circumstances, they attacked him and his bodyguard and left him for dead.  Not taking the hint Pertinax recovered and redoubled his attempts to discipline the troops.  He was actually forced to resign on the grounds that the troops had lost faith in him.

Still this didn't damage his career too much and he wound up as proconsul of Africa and followed that up by becoming Urban Prefect of Rome.  Urban Prefect was a good job to have if you were ambitious, particularly if the emperor was mad, hated or just careless.  The current emperor, Commodus, was an interesting blend of all three.

Whether Pertinax was involved in the subsequent plot is unclear but after Commodus was strangled to death by his wrestling partner (a term that may or may not be a euphemism) it was Pertinax who turned up at the Praetorian camp measuring himself for laurel wreaths and purple cloth.  This time it was the Praetorians who failed to take the hint.  What the world's most mutinous, disputatious, arrogant pack of thugs in uniform thought they were doing elevating a strict disciplinarian to the imperial throne is anybody's guess but it didn't take them long to realise it was a mistake.  Eighty six days to be precise.

Sadly for Pertinax when it came to not hint taking he was the absolute master.  Despite his experiences in Britain he made a concerted attempt to reimpose discipline on the Praetorians.  If that wasn't bad enough he undertook currency reform, tried to reform the grain supply and generally overdosed all the sleazy, devious, brutal corrupt vermin hanging around Rome on reform.

Frankly he was lucky to last eighty six days.  At the end of that time the Praetorians stormed into his palace and killed him very dead indeed.  The lack of an immediate successor indicates that for once the Praetorians hadn't been bought but were acting on their own account.  This left them with the embarrassing position of having an empire with no emperor.  Somewhat belatedly they started casting around to see if anyone wanted the job.  Necessary qualifications included being rich enough to bribe the crap out of them and being stupid enough to want the job in the first place.  Strangely they found two, they selected the higher bidder and gave him the job.  He lasted sixty six days.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Pokemon in the Eye With A Blunt Stick

So Pokemon is back in a new high tech form.  I'm not sure of the details but apparently you download the app and then walk off cliffs or cause horrible traffic accidents.  Whatever the consequences I think we all agree that its good to see young people getting out in the fresh air and certainly anyone who walks off a cliff with their eyes glued to their phone is somebody we want to escort out of the gene pool as swiftly as possible.

Even my corporate overlords have got into the act touting some sort of Pokemon hunt as a team building exercise.  At least I think that's their intention.  It's entirely possible they're hoping some of their more expendable employees walk off cliffs.

I remember Pokemon from years ago when there was a Japanese cartoon series about it.  I only saw a couple of episodes (well, maybe three or four) and I have to admit I found it more than a little concerning.  To the best of my understanding (and believe me I haven't tried too hard to understand) Pokemon consists of finding aforesaid Pokemon, training them up and then having them do battle with other similarly trained Pokemon.  If you don't find that just a little bit disturbing then substitute the word "pokemon" with "puppy" and see how like it then.  Possibly the greatest achievement of the game's designers is to make something so intrinsically vile cute and rather appealing.

Of course I'm overreacting; I'm sure that there hasn't been an upsurge of dog fighting or bear baiting in regions where Pokemon is prevalent.  It could also be pointed out with perfect accuracy that the bulk of the computer entertainment I indulge in are various wargames thus vicariously engaging in an activity almost as morally reprehensible as dog fighting.  Nevertheless such games are at least open about what they do and test your skill without surreptitiously leading you to a moral decision you may not be comfortable with along the way.  I choose my side and I play to win without ever being in doubt about the horror of war and I know before I start what sort of game I'm playing.

Pokemon contains enough fantasy to conceal the very nasty reality of what you're expected to do.  Pokemon is fun, or at least I assume it is otherwise why would people walk off cliffs playing it?  It is cute, creative and imaginative.  It is everything a game should be.  Some games are also teaching tools.  Let's hope very hard that Pokemon isn't one of them.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Heck With It, Set Up as Many Graven Images as You Like

What do you have to do to get a statue erected in your honour?  I don't mean building one yourself.  Any megalomaniac with an abundance of money and a deficit in taste can do that.  Such self erected monuments are little more than exercises in public masturbation and they're loads of fun for everyone.  For the person who commissioned it they're public proof that he can do whatever he wants no matter how crass or tacky, for those who actually built it its gainful employment.  Visitors from other lands get a private chuckle and a sense of smug superiority in how much better governed their nation is and finally of course the oppressed masses get something to tear down during the inevitable uprising.  Fun for the whole family.

No, what I'm asking is what do you have to do to get others to put up a statue to you?  No doubt they have other things to do with their lives and money so what would make a group of virtual strangers think a poor quality 3D representation of you is a valid use of resources?  Military victory is a traditional reason but it's by no means guaranteed.  Considering the number or wars our species has fought and the number of victorious generals we've produced as a consequence the planet would be entirely covered in statues if that was the only requirement.  Achievement in some other, less violent, activity is occasionally rewarded with a lump of stone gouged to roughly resemble what people think you look like but that's even less certain.  For starters somebody actually has to be impressed by your putative achievements.

Religion is probably the most certain method but it does rather require that you become a religious figure which is sometimes difficult to manage.  In addition certain religions (ironically including Christianity) have strictures about setting up graven images.  Thus not even religion is a guarantee of being semi-immortalised in stone.

Fear not for an answer to the question has arrived to us from the expanses of Russia.  To get a statue apparently what you have to do is murder a whole bunch of people and then wait several centuries.  The officials of the city of Oryol in Russia are apparently planning to erect a statue to Tsar Ivan the Terrible in time for the city's 450th birthday celebrations.  There is a reason; Ivan apparently founded the place by commanding that a fortress be built in the location.  It wasn't a particularly good place for a fortress and over the years the fortress and the city which grew up around it were conquered, occupied, overrun and sacked on a semi regular basis.  A suggestion was made that the fortress be moved somewhere a little more defensible but apparently was lost in committee.

Now after some four and a half centuries of nervous existence the city has decided to honour the man who didn't think it was necessary to build a fortress at the top of a hill for example.  Or at least the city authorities have, the actual citizens seem to be appalled for very good reasons.  Ivan probably isn't the sort of guy you want to hold up as an example to others.  Possibly Ivan the Terrible's biggest fan was Josef Stalin, enough said.

In many ways Ivan would appear to be statue material.  During his reign the Crimean Khanate was finally conquered and the first serious attempts to exploit Siberia were made.  By the time Ivan died Russian authority extended to the Pacific Ocean and the nation itself had gone from a middle rank country to a genuine power.  It was just a pity there were so few Russians left alive to enjoy this state of affairs.  Well educated, widely read and highly intelligent Ivan was also a paranoid, murderous nutcase.  Perhaps his most lasting "gift" to the Russian people was the Oprichniki a ruthless, murderous secret police force which operated with pretty much total impunity outside the control of the regular state apparatus and whose influence can be seen in the Cheka, the NKVD, the KGB and the current FSB.  With the eager assistance of the Oprichniki Ivan contrived to kill approximately sixty thousand of his subjects.  This may not seem like much by modern standards but in the 1400s there were fewer people around to be murdered and the methods of doing so were laborious and operated mostly by hand.

The suggestion that a statue be erected to Ivan the Terrible has sparked a rare unanimity in Russian politcal circles.  Everyone from the most wild eyed democracy activist to the most shameless Kremlin lickspittle is apparently horrified by the suggestion.  Ivan the Terrible: Bringing the Russian People Together.  Maybe he does deserve a statue after all.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Tasmanians

An early morning stillness hangs over the farm.  The air, almost solid with moisture and cold serves as a surrogate for night, concealing the activities of those of ill will.  A broken twig, a cow's eyelid raised.  A sudden, expectant silence.  A hunching of muscles and a setting of horns.  Suddenly, a bellow of noise as the raiders break cover.  Charging towards their prey a gang of ragged wild eyed men wave ropes and rev tractors.  It all seems rather like a low budget production of Mad Max.  That is if the chief protagonist in Mad Max was a very large cow.

Yep the death march of Mr Moo continues.  The latest scheme is to drag our recalcitrant hero across the road by means of heavy ropes and tractors.  Presumably a journey to execution lane will begin from there.  This blogs beef industry reporter has breathlessly passed along details of this latest in an increasingly long line of increasingly futile attempts to prove the human race superior to its bovine competitor.  Eager for a scoop our reporter had hidden in a specially constructed blind designed to blend into the background to witness the attempts to haul Mr Moo roadwards.  Sadly her attempts at reporting were interrupted when someone slung a rope around her neck and hooked her up to a tractor.  Possibly disguising herself as a passing cow wasn't the best idea after all.

I may have used a certain amount of poetic licence in the preceding couple of paragraphs.  A more cultured person would point out that I've actually used a certain amount of unpoetic licence.  In actual fact none of the above happened.  A certain amount of it was intended to.  The tractors, ropes and Mr Moo part.  That was all definitely planned according to our animal torture reporter in Middleton, Tasmania.  A group of young Tasmanian men with too much time on their hands (possibly all of them) under the direction of our reporter's father in law (and perhaps the only halfway sensible one of the lot) were going to assail Mr Moo from all sides and attach a heavy rope to him.  This attempt at animal bondage being successful the rope would then be attached to a tractor.  Details were sketchy from that point but apparently the presence of a large rope attached to both Mr Moo and a tractor would "encourage" Mr Moo across the road.

Doomsayers (myself and this blogs impending disaster reporter in Tasmania) pointed out that attempts to produce this desirable state of affairs could lead to the legs and horns of several hundred kilograms of cow impacting with body parts of enthusiastic young Tasmanians.  Fortunately however disaster was averted.  It turns out that "enthusiastic young Tasmanians" is an oxymoron.  When the time came for the assault on Mr Moo nobody turned up.  One presumes Tasmanians only eat meat if an animal actually falls into a fire in front of them.

For now Mr Moo still reigns supreme if only by default as his opponents have yet to turn up.  Our reporter's father in law after a few exasperated comments about the unreliability of today's generation of Tasmanians is reported to be leaning towards the shoot it where it stands position originally espoused by his wife.  This has the advantage of requiring assistance from nobody and involving very minimal effort.  Sadly this might be a plan Tasmania can actually achieve.  The writing is on the wall Mr Moo.  It's mainly tags from drug addled sixteen year olds but its definitely there.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Silly After Action Report Part 3- Training Day - Blind Bombers and Bold Bridgelayers

And also a visit from the alliteration police.  Weeks have gone by since I last regaled you with my shambolic attempts at playing this game.  This was mainly due to the fact that my electricity which normally purrs through my wires like a well behaved cat suddenly started spitting and jerking all over the place and in the process burnt out my internet connection to the despair of spam emailers everywhere.

Now I'm back and as I gaze across the map I realise that the me of a few weeks ago left the me of right now in a lousy position.  I hate that bastard.  Still despite the chronic incompetence of my earlier self I must carry on.  My flanking position on the right is looking more than a little frayed as such of my troops that have avoided minefields now find themselves scattered across the board.  In the centre a pair of bridgelayers prepare to lower pathways across an anti tank ditch and on the left a seething mass of troops cringing beneath concealment counters pile up in the last available cover and nervously contemplate charging across the open ground.

Time is running out and some difficult choices have to be made.  You may recall I noted that my last PzIV was parked pretty much underneath Ivan's antitank gun and was very obviously not long for this world.  I was right, Ivan's 37mm cranked around and blew the thing to pieces.  I didn't care, I barely cried.  I had other fish to fry.  While I was frying fish Ivan was frying tanks.  Reluctantly I dragged my attention back from supper to see what he was doing.  He managed to reman his anti aircraft gun in anticipation of my air support.  One of his 76mm guns took out a bridgelaying tank while my firepower didn't even disturb the seams of his soldiers uniforms.  With an almost brutal eagerness I ordered in my stuka but apparently he had difficulties finding the target, the ground wasn't big enough or something, and buzzed off back to a corner of the map.  Apparently any plan that required me to hit the enemy wasn't going to work.

Slowly grinding forwards amidst a litter of tank wrecks.

Despite this disappointing state of affairs I perservered in a triumph of optimism over experience.  I had finally gathered a few tanks on the plateau on the left and despite generally lousy rolls managed to finally break the crew of his atg.  Not to be outdone another tank rolled up and overran his newly remanned AA gun breaking the squad who was doomed to die for failure to rout.  Over on the right things were still going badly as a squad managed to get itself caught on some wire in the woods.  As at the time of writing they're still there like heavily armed scarecrows.

Just when I was cursing my bad dice (and Ivan was rolling his eyes and making :"here we go again" motions) one of my mortars stepped up to the plate in a big way.  I had dumped smoke on both his forward cupolas and with it due to disperse soon I felt I should gain some acquisition to make my subsequent fire phase easier.  Instead my mortar went on a stunning rate tear which resulted in a critical hit completely destroying a cupola.  Honestly compels me to admit that the very next shot activated his sniper which promptly broke the mortar crew who are currently cringing underneath their weapon weeping with fear but still a destroyed cupola will make the path forward easier.

My one surviving tank on the right bulled forward alone killing a squad and breaking another before being brought back to reality with a pair of consecutive stun results which left them no longer interested in proceedings.  Its fair to say my right is unlikely to take much more useful part in the game.  Over on the left my immobilised PzIV repaired its main armament (again) fired at the roadblock (again) without result (again) and then promptly broke its main armament (again).  This time the repair roll was a six and the crew hopped out of their now completely useless vehicle providing me with a little more expendable infantry.

Ivan skulked as much as he could in his turn trusting to time and his defences while my stuka once again proved that having a birds eye view of the battlefield didn't mean it could actually find anything to hit, it buzzed off impotently for a second turn.  I suspect I'm going to have to win this without much Luftwaffe intervention. 

More tank wrecks

My main infantry force is piling up on the left.  I'm pushing through now and have cleared away (I hope) the bulk of his outlying defenders.  Now the fort stands alone waiting to receive my attack.  Oh yes and I bridged an antitank ditch.  So one personal objective gained at any rate.  His 76mm shocked the first tank that tried to cross but it recovered the very next turn and a squad and machine gun armoured assaulted forward and into a trench.  I don't have much hope they will achieve much but they're another nuisance for Ivan to worry about.

The time has come for the final push, I still have a few tanks and a large mass of infantry, all I have to do is cross a broad stretch of open ground in the teeth of (no doubt) furious resistance.  As has happened with me in the past I think I've left it a little late but perhaps with some luck, and if the damned stuka can do anything at all I might make a genuine stab at it.  Ivan is obviously worried as he came up with some rubbish excuse about visiting family in the UK to give him a few weeks off to contemplate his situation.  I'll be waiting for you Ivan, I smell victory.  Oh no wait, I just burnt the toast.

Ready for the final push

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

I Ate an Egg

Sometimes its irritating living alone.  I wanted an egg for dinner this evening but I couldn't buy just one.  Oh no, I had to buy a dozen of the little ovoid bastards.  Fortunately one of them was broken so I only have ten surplus to requirements eggs.  The eggs were apparently free range although I have my doubts about exactly how free the ranging involved was.  After all you need to be able to find where the chickens have left the eggs.

Mind you the egg packet did its best to convince you that these eggs had been handed up voluntarily by chickens out of a simple sense of gratitude for living in heaven on earth.  "Just as nature intended" was one line.  Because I'm sure that nature really intended chickens to hang around in someone else's backyard so that the owners could more conveniently feast on their unborn children.  The word "traditional" was tossed in as well.  Traditional is really a winner when you're promoting pretty much anything.  This is despite the fact that traditional basically means dirty, ignorant, disease ridden and wretched.

Nothing is more indicative of how far the human race has come than our ability to look back on the endless litany of misery, hardship and desperation which makes up the bulk of human existence and sigh with nostalgia.  That's before we get on to the chickens.  Everywhere there are chickens, crapping, spreading diseases, dropping feathers and running in front of carts, vans and cars so that impressionable children will get their little hearts broken.  Frankly I think it was a good thing when we gathered together these egg spawning filth bags and stuffed them into warehouses out of everyone's way.

But that wasn't good enough was it.  Barely had the last child died of chicken pox when people were sighing for the days when you couldn't get out of bed without treading on a damn chicken.  Suddenly free range was the rage.  Claims were made that the eggs tasted better which was obviously the most transparent propaganda put out by people who suddenly felt the nation couldn't survive another minute without being up to its hips in chickens.

Not that we actually got free range chickens.  Considering the number of chickens required to keep the world in eggs we'd probably need another planet to keep them all on for them to be properly free range.  So what we get is something hovering midway between battery farming (cruel) and genuine free range (messy, dirty, chicken ridden hell).  The chickens get enough space to dream of genuine freedom without ever attaining it while we gain just sufficient opportunities to tread in chicken shit to convince ourselves that we're being genuinely traditional.

Personally I think chickens in battery farms would be happier to surrender their eggs simply so that their children don't have to grow up in such an environment.  Free range chickens probably sob as we take their eggs mourning the loss of chickenly potential as we sweep up another generation and take them off to become bacon and egg mcmuffins.  I hope proponents of free range eggs are feeling appropriately bad about themselves.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Brexit Means A Republic? Of Course It Does.

Apparently Brexit means Australia should become a republic.  At least according to certain supporters of the republican movement it does.  Mind you pretty much anything can be taken by various supporters of the republican movement as validation for their cause.  If the birds fly south for the Winter (difficult in Australia it must be admitted) we should have a republic.  If the queen rolls over in bed we should have a republic.  And now apparently if one nation decides to leave an economic agreement come quasi superstate that we aren't connected to then we should absolutely have a republic. 

The arguments for becoming a republic go something like this;

  • It is embarrassing that the Queen is our head of state (not to me it isn't, possibly you're over sensitive)
  • It is an anachronistic throwback of a bygone age of no relevance to modern Australia (absolutely, I believe it is what is called a "traditional, cultural practice" which totally has to be respected by modern society despite its self evident stupidity)
  • It creates confusion amongst people we do diplomacy with (really?  International diplomats must be incredibly stupid then, and badly informed as well - not that I'm ruling that out)
  • It will be a symbol of Australia's maturity as a nation (actually its more likely a symbol of insecurity and immaturity as a nation to stand on a box and scream loudly about how we don't need them anymore. Mature nations just move on)
  • Britain isn't interested in us (well, I'm not that interested in them).
  • Australia should have an Australian as head of state (this one is hard to refute but if you're looking for an impartial figurehead to stand above the turmoil of the politics of the day then a complete stranger who probably couldn't find Australia on a map is pretty much the perfect candidate).
There's another argument for becoming a republic which its proponents don't tend to mention.  If we become a republic it increases the possibility that our next head of state will be one of them.

Personally I'm quite happy with the monarchy.  Nothing pleases me more than having my head of state twelve thousand miles away without any immediate intention to visit.  I can't pretend to any sort of great royalist fervour but if becoming a republic is going to cost any money (which it will) then I'm opposed to it.  The queen does a great job; she poses for currency, opens things and gives a fixed smile when the latest collection of diplomatic vermin is paraded before her.  What more do you want?  Well, actually your majesty, if you could contrive to keep breath in your body until after Charles is safely filling a box I think we would all appreciate it.

There isn't any practical reason for Australia to retain the monarchy except that it would cost money to change it.  On the other hand there isn't any practical reason for Australia to become a republic except that it might shut republic advocates up for a while (and no doubt give one of them a job).

I suppose Australia will become a republic one day if only for the reason given above.  I have no problem with a republic or an Australian head of state per se.  I will happily wave our new Union Jack free flag and proudly announce my nationality to anyone who asks.  In short, absolutely nothing will change.  I just don't appreciate spending my money to fix a problem which could be better attended to by its sufferers spending their own money on therapy sessions.