Sunday, November 20, 2016

Immersive Reporting

A week or so ago I charged this blogs introduced species reporter with discovering the truth about Tasmania's fox plague as represented by some droppings of dubious provenance and a fox corpse conveniently located by the side of the road.

I didn't hear anything from her for several days and on Thursday I fielded a worried phone call from her husband.  Apparently she had smeared herself in camouflage paint, dressed in fox skins and vanished into the Tasmanian bush.  Furthermore disturbing reports started to filter in of some strange hybrid foxwoman attacking sheep in remote pastures.  I was just about to press the button on the self destruct device I had planted in her skull while she was asleep when a blood spattered message stick was dropped on my doorstep by a slightly mauled courier.

Once I'd washed the matted sheep remains off the stick it's message was explosive.  Vile fraud has been perpetrated on the innocent Tasmanian people!  The fox carcass which was supposed to be proof that Tasmania was sinking into the sea under the massed weight of foxes predating the local wildlife has turned out to be imported.  A careful autopsy has proved that the unfortunate animal died elsewhere and was imported into Tasmania post mortem.

Which just leaves the question of why anyone would stuff a fox corpse into their suitcase before taking a trip to Tasmania.  "Conspiracy," say some.  Those who stand to gain from fuelling a fox scare are using dirty tactics to keep the fear alive (at this point it might be worth reminding the reader that the Tasmanian government has so far spent around $50 million dollars investigating a non existent fox menace).  Others suggest it's simply a Tinder date that went horribly wrong.  Alternatively it might be a hoax from the sort of person who finds carrying a dead fox around in a suitcase intrinsically hilarious.

I must get my fox conspiracy reporter to investigate but that's going to take a little time.  According to her husband easing her back into human society is still a work in progress.  They're currently keeping her in a paddock where she's guarding the garlic crop and making Mr Moo nervous.  They hope to reintroduce her to cooked food and her children in few weeks when she can be trusted to tell the difference.

All at Sea

There is a cruise ship parked at the international passenger terminal.  It is a huge, white floating monstrosity which glories in the flatulently pretentious name "Celebrity Solstice".  At this point I can't help wondering if cruise lines are naming their ships based on suggestions from their CEO's nineteen year old, ex stripper third wife.  Possibly they just give her a sheet of multi syllable words and tell her to pick any two.  Presumably the Celebrity Solstice has a sister ship called the Paparazzi Equinox.

Who wouldn't want to cruise the world on the Paparazzi Equinox?  The  name reeks of luxury and privilege.  Well it reeks of something anyway with a little healthy paganism thrown in.  Can't you see yourself on the geriatric hedonist deck of the Paparazzi Equinox as it wanders around the worlds oceans swamping low lying island nations and terrifying the local sea life as she passes.  For the passengers it must be like sitting in your lounge room being attended by a third world domestic staff while the scenery changes very slowly outside your window.

I can imagine myself aboard the good ship Paparazzi Equinox staring in wonder at the luxury and facilities and finally of course in horror as the dock slides slowly behind us as the slaving gang who dragged me onboard muffle my screams and hustle me below decks.  And so many decks!  By the time they dump me down in the hold the most important item present is the caged canary serving as an early warning system should the air get difficult to breathe.

Slowly the Paparazzi Equinox makes its majestic way out through Sydney Heads pausing only to hose off a Manly ferry which got inexplicably tangled in the propellers.  The siren booms a warning. "Stand aside peasants, you are in the presence of something so wealthy and powerful that we didn't even have to bother coming up with a sensible name for it."  Meanwhile I'm down in the dimly lit hold engaged in a vicious, life and death struggle with rats, half starved service staff and a small tribe of Troglodytes hitherto unknown to science.  Next time I'm taking the plane.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Silly After Action Report - A Drama, or possibly A Farce, in Three Acts - Adapted From the Musical

Act 1

Well in my last AAR I noted the remarkable absence of air support for the Germans trying to conquer Poland.  I'm pleased to announce that in the next scenario I'm taking the Germans and there is a mass of air support.  Unfortunately its all Polish.  Scenario BFP112 - Killer Carp has a set of decidedly second rate Germans (that's even before we factor in my leadership) plugging through the woods towards a Polish village.  On the other side is a roughly equivalent group of Poles plugging through more woods to the same Polish village.  The skies are ruled by Polish aircraft.  I'm definitely going to be writing a stern letter to the local Luftwaffe commander about this.

There is little to report for the first couple of turns.  My forces came on and made their way villageward without too much interference from a non existent Polish defender.  The air support turned out to be a damp squib as Ivan tried three times to attack the same group of concealed troops and failed each sighting task check.  So much for the air support.  Over on the other side of the board Ivan's forces also moved unhindered through the trees towards the village.

Ho hum, trudging through the forest

Let me see if I can inject a little excitement into this.  The German forces moved forward cautiously, a foe could lurk behind every tree.  Overhead the drone of Polish aircraft searching for targets chilled every man to the bone but orders were orders and Europe wasn't going to devastate itself.  Guns at the ready, eyes narrowed, ears straining for every whisper of sound the German troops moved from tree to tree, wriggled cautiously through grain filled clearings and always cast one eye upwards for the dreaded Carp of the Skies.

At the other end a gang of Polish ne'erdowells shambled forwards shouting and singing kicking badgers and shooting at endangered species as they came.  Pausing only to belch and toss beer cans all over the place they wandered in the general direction of the village because it was the only place for miles that sold cheap vodka.  The noise of aircraft overhead and the sound of gunfire as the Polish troops shot at them for fun added to the din.  The Polish officers were either drunk or back in Warsaw trying to arrange for their mistresses to be evacuated to France.  As they blundered into one end of the village the Germans crept stealthily into the other.  Which didn't stop Ivan rolling a snake eyes to obliterate what I was hoping to be a kill stack before it could fire a shot.

Both Ivan and my troops have reached the village now and have occupied about half the buildings each.  In order to win one of us will have to take at least one building from the other (or move troops onto the other side's entry board, a prospect that seems to be lessening by the minute).

Act 2
I approached the resumption of play with trepidation.  Two mmgs were sitting alone in a building while a pair of broken squads cringed in the nearby woods accompanied by a wounded officer weeping and holding his leaky bits.  But things were about to look up.  Panting along a little behind my main force were my reinforcements, three squads each one toting a large, cumbersome but ROF 3 heavy machine gun.  This allowed me to reinforce my right, left and centre more or less simultaneously.  I also benefited from the terrain which gave the Germans a wooded area more or less in the centre of the board where forces could mass unharmed (or recover from breaking) before moving forward into the village.  Its fair to say the next couple of turns went badly for Ivan.  Over on his right he had a concealed stack six counters high.  I knew that meant a pair of squads, a pair of support weapons and, no doubt a competent leader to go with them.  Over in the centre his 10-1 commanded the hmg unit which had crucified my kill stack while other units filtered through the woods. On his left a mortar, plus an mmg team had stopped an over optimistic flanking manoeuvre in its tracks.

Not great, a pile of unattended MMGs sit in the centre while broken squads cringe behind and their officer snivels about his quite trivial injury

Nothing much happened for a turn or two on the left.  Ivan shot at me a bit, stripped a little concealment and broke the occasional squad but my guys slunk back into the trees and I pushed other concealed units into their place.  Unfortunately with a range of five to my meagre four I wasn't confident I had the firepower to deal with him.  On the right the gods smiled on me.  His would be kill stack failed to scratch my troops in the building and in return a meagre 6+1 shot broke a squad and officer and reduced the stack to more manageable proportions.  I got a shock though when he sneaked a halfsquad past me.  I thought it was on a concealment stripping mission and ignored it to allow myself to fire on his kill stack.  Instead the damn thing kept on going and charged into my rear area.  Suddenly Ivan had a unit in the rear board victory location, the status quo would not be sufficient.  Ah but then my automatic weapons started their execution.  I pounded his kill stack some more and even broke his hmg team and officer.  Another hmg started shooting up his forces on the left breaking the bulk of the forces he had there. 
Despite some nasty Polish casualties getting across the road towards the other building hexes that might give me victory was still looking doubtful.  Then Ivan fired on some guys in the woods and they went berserk.  Problem solved, they charged across the road, laughing contemptuously at Polish fire and into a building containing a Polish half squad.  Advancing fire killed the half squad and my berserkers settled down in their newly occupied building and looked around for their next victim.  I took advantage of this charge to actually snatch another building and  push some reinforcements towards my berserkers as well.  My occupancy of the second building didn't last long but I'm now firmly lodged in the village and hoping to use my burgeoning automatic weapons to essentially blast my way to victory.

Weight of metal is starting to tell in the centre.

Over on the left I can start to move as his forces have been gutted.  The right is a concern as various bits of his kill stack have managed to reassemble themselves so I will have to guard against a counter attack from that direction and I have to stop any more half squads following the example of their comrade who is now living it large in the rear area safe from retribution.  In the centre Ivan has brought up his reserves and rallied some units but his position is a little worse than it was.  I hope to  make it a lot worse.
Act 3

You know how in the previous act I said that Ivan's forces on the left had been gutted?  Well they had and Ivan didn't help matters by breaking the mortar which was pretty much his only support weapon left to guard the flank.  So what did I do?  I moved boldly forward and in advancing fire shot at a cluster of broken halfsquads to keep them under DM.  Naturally one of them rolled snake eyes and promptly went berserk.  These heroes charged forward laughingly shrugging off hmg fire and a 20+1 attack to hurl themselves into close combat with a squad and a half of my own.  The close combat didn't happen as the 2 flat advancing fire shot broke all of my forces and forced them to rout through interdiction to rather dubious safety.  In one move my left flank was destroyed.

Fortunately things went better in the centre.  With my own berserk guys licking their lips at adjacent troops Ivan brought up three squads to bolster his firepower.  The berserkers broke one with advancing fire and an adjacent lmg team broke another.  Meanwhile in the village things went from bad to worse for him.  I now had so much firepower nestled behind wooden walls that I was literally able to shoot him to pieces.  It wasn't even close.  Towards the end Ivan had to take silly risks just to try and get some troops forward but even before then he just couldn't build and maintain a position.  His squads proved incapable of standing up to even NMCs.  This wasn't just Ivan's problem, my own troops were equally fragile but I had the centre woods as a safe and centrally located rally spot and the amount of firepower I was able to bring down limited Ivan's chances for inflicting truly game changing casualties on me.

My berserkers died of course, they were halved charging into the hex containing Ivan's surviving squad and the remainder were killed in CC but by this time I had troops to burn and Poles were getting increasingly thin on the ground.  He finally managed to break my lmg team in the building on my right and I had a horrible turn when I broke an lmg and an hmg in the same firephase but even with these inconveniences the sheer weight of metal I could throw out decimated his troops.  Three reinforcing squads with hmgs might just be a little too much.  Possibly it might be more interesting if they were reduced to two.

The end; don't bother looking for any more Poles, there aren't any.

Ivan conceded with one turn to go.  Of his at start OB he had precisely four unbroken halfsquads left scattered across the board.  I'm always glad to get a win but Ivan and I agreed there wasn't much replayability in this scenario.  Basically the Germans and the Poles line up in their respective parts of the village and then just blast away at each other.  The first player to get a good turn of firing (in this case me) will probably inflict sufficient damage to put the other into a position where its difficult to win.  Our respective flanking moves didn't really come off.  I got nowhere and Ivan managed to sneak just one halfsquad through.  I guess the air support is intended to be a bit of a leveller for the Poles and its true that Ivan had dreadful luck with his sighting task checks failing all three for no result but even so a sighting TC against concealed units in cover needs a six, less than a 50% chance.  Thanks to Ivan for the game and to his perennial good humour as automatic weapons and dice conspired to destroy every clever idea he came up with.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sheep As Ships

OK, I guess I'm going to have to explain the title.  Not only is the joke bad even by the low standards set in this blog but it occurs to me that it might be a little obscure to some.  Of course all I have to do is mention the name Senegal and all becomes clear.

Senegal has been the subject of a brief shout out in this blog before when I noted that they actually have a decoration to reward good truck driving.  Since this, no doubt, ignited an intense fascination with all things Senegal here are some quick facts about the country.  Senegal is a country in west Africa.  It's capital is Dakar.  Now you probably know enough to get a position as a lecturer in west African studies at any of our major universities.  I've decided I wouldn't mind going to Senegal if only to see an award ceremony where truck drivers are honoured for, presumably, not running down too many pedestrians.

I was googling the Senegalese navy the other day (as one does) and got a neat little precis on what they do and what sort of ships they have.  At this point I imagine you screaming, "Neil, I can't live another moment without knowing what sort of ships the Senegalese navy has and what they do with them!  Tell me, tell me now!"  Well, if you insist.  The Senegalese navy consists of a handful of offshore patrol vessels and a couple of geriatric landing craft.  Modest, you might say, even minimalist.  Very true although an argument can be made that the Senegalese navy is more suited to purpose than the Australian.  Let's face it, the Senegalese navy is unlikely to be called on to refight the Battle of Midway any time soon.  What they are called on to do (with depressing frequency) is chase off foreign flagged fishing vessels illegally fishing in Senegal's waters.  For Australians such an occurrence is a minor economic nuisance, for Senegal with millions of poverty stricken coast dwellers the industrial scale raping of their fishing resources is in danger of depriving desperately poor people of their primary source of protein.  The landing craft are for hauling the army's heavy equipment to places that have beaches but limited road access.

When they're not chasing off fishing vessels or acting as the army's removalists the stalwart men of the Senegalese navy kick back with their religiously appropriate non alcoholic beverage of choice and settle down to watch This Sheep.  This Sheep (Khar Bii in the local dialect) is the most popular television programme in Senegal.  It's kind of like American Idol only Senegalese and about sheep.  It's fair to say that the Senegalese are rather fond of sheep and not just in the usual, with mint jelly way.  Any Senegalese with a little bit of extra space will be keeping a couple of sheep.  For the record a spare bedroom in an inner city apartment qualifies as "a little bit of extra space".  The programme This Sheep is quite simply a contest to find Senegal's most handsome and impressive sheep.  People enter their sheep in This Sheep and judges come out and assess each sheep based on criteria such as health, horns, heft, coat and symmetry of testicles.  Nationwide kudos, a cheque and the certainty of interest from breeders await the winner although for mine the greatest attraction must be to see the local equivalent of Simon Cowell checking the symmetry of a sheeps testicles.

But back to the navy.  As I said, the Senegalese navy seems quite fit for purpose on the other hand I'm not entirely sure the Australian navy is.  Centrepiece of our navy is a pair of massive great LHDs (that's Landing Helicopter Dock not some kind of disease).  These monstrous beasts can carry a reinforced infantry company, all of its equipment and tank support within their capacious bellies.  The role of the bulk of the remainder of the navy is to protect these two ships (you know as opposed to Australia, for instance) which would be OK if I could think of a single reason to have them in the first place.  I'm not saying we don't need some sort of amphibious capacity but the ability to move two tank heavy infantry companies from one place to another is either ridiculous overkill or nowhere near adequate.

Seriously, can anybody think of a nation within easy sailing distance of Australia that could be overrun by a couple of infantry companies and doesn't have the wherewithal to sink the ships en route?  Holy shit, we're going to invade New Zealand!  We'd better be careful though.  When the Senegalese hear that we're invading a peaceful underarmed nation with a fondness for sheep they'll be sending the kiwis reinforcements.  Worse, they might cut off my satellite feed before I get the opportunity to watch the latest episode of This Sheep.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Birthday Greetings #61

Some people inherit empires, the throne passes from father to son in a seamless transition while the collection of thugs, chancers and freakshows collectively described as the aristocracy look on approvingly.  Others make use of the access to sharp pointy things that high rank in the army provides to promote themselves a little further than perhaps their predecessor expected.  Still others sleaze, manipulate and cut deals which result in them slithering onto a jewel crusted throne despite the fond hopes of various other candidates.  Finally there is the occasional guy just wandering blamelessly past minding his own business when a bunch of people throw a purple robe at him and say something like, "Congratulations your majesty, try not to piss off the army."

As an example of the last category our current birthday boy is a little hard to beat.  Happy birthday to Marcus Coeccius Nerva Caesar Augustus, more commonly known to us as Nerva.  He was a Roman emperor and his principal qualification for the job seems to be that he was in the vicinity when his predecessor came down with an acute case of assassination.

Nerva's background is somewhat obscure.  Of course by "obscure" I mean obscure for a high ranking member of the Roman establishment who had already held a consulship and was a member of the senate.  I don't mean obscure like the bulk of the Roman population of whom we know nothing and care less.  Still Nerva's background is a little "grey".  He didn't follow the usual "course of honour" for a high ranking nobleman but nevertheless he seems to have been if not at the centre of power then just slightly adjacent to the centre of power for much of his adult life.  He survived Nero, the Year of the Four Emperors and then in turn Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.  None of them thought he was worth killing.  All of them seemed to trust him.  When you consider that a lot of these people wound up killing each other its entirely possible that someone who could persuade each and every one of them that he was on their side while maintaining enough anonymity so that he wasn't purged by the succeeding administration was a very dark horse indeed.

Nerva's immediate predecessor was Domitian who got himself murdered by a conspiracy that Nerva appears to have had no part in.  But then Nerva appears to have had very little part in anything yet at the time of the killing he was a senior senator with two consulships under his belt.  Possibly attempting to explain the choice historians have pointed to the fact that he was elderly and childless and could be considered a "safe pair of hands".  Nerva increased his popularity with the senate by promising not to have any of them killed unless, you know, he really had to.

Possibly a quiet non entity (or someone who could produce a reasonable facade of quiet non entityness) was exactly what the empire needed while everybody calmed down and got over Domitian who by all accounts was a bit of psycho.  Nerva certainly made all the right noises; no more treason trials, fortunes confiscated by Domitian were returned, exiles were invited to come home.  This coupled with tax relief and a public works programme seemed designed to get people feeling a bit happier about Nerva on the throne.  Unfortunately all of this cost money which couldn't be completely defrayed by Nerva auctioning off Domitian's old furniture.  As a coherent economic policy a garage sale wasn't considered to quite cut it.

In addition to financial woes there was a certain amount of murderous anarchy going on.  This was basically the Roman equivalent of political debate but it was starting to get out of hand.  While Nerva had abolished treason trials he hadn't stopped informers from operating.  The result was a free for all of everybody denouncing everybody else while simultaneously trying to cover their own arse and reassure anyone who listened of their own undying loyalty (although who to was sometimes a little difficult to discern).  Finally the army in the form of the Praetorian Guard stepped forward and pointed out that senatorial opposition notwithstanding they had rather liked Domitian and would Nerva please hand over his killers for hideous retribution followed (if it was considered necessary) by a fair trial.  Nerva refused.  The Praetorians insisted.  Their method of insisting included laying siege to the palace that Nerva was currently living in.

The histories point out that Nerva caved, handed over the murderers and adopted a well liked and popular soldier as his heir.  That's true; on the other hand he is pretty much the only person the Praetorians disliked who emerged from a meeting with them with all of his blood still in his body.  There was something about this guy.  Anyway the handover of the killers and the adoption of Trajan (a wine happy pederast from Spain) as his heir pretty much settled everything to everyone's satisfaction.  A few months later Nerva died of natural causes (a stroke followed by a fever.  As far as we can tell it wasn't a sword stroke) and Trajan took over in a seamless transition while the collection of thugs, chancers and freakshows collectively described as the aristocracy looked on approvingly.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Of Fish and Foxes

Tasmania; land of wild scenic beauty.  Where snow capped mountains loom over fields decorated with junked cars.  Where ancient, old growth forests resonate with the sound of bird song and chainsaws.  Where wild rivers rush through their beds on their age old journey to lakes created by massive dams to generate hydro power which still doesn't stop there being power shortages during a drought.  In short Tasmania, where men are men and fish are crowded.

OK, that last sentence might need a little explaining.  People who have read my previous blogs on our southern colony might have come to the conclusion that the working age population of Tasmania is evenly divided between useless government employees and welfare recipients.  This is actually rather unfair.  The working age population of Tasmania is roughly divided into three groups; welfare recipients, the government employees hired to provide the welfare to the recipients and employees in the private sector doing their best to mismanage the state's vast natural resources to the point where they can be transferred to one of the first two categories.

Which quite naturally leads us to fish.  Fish farming is a bit of a Tasmanian success story.  Salmon appears to be the fish of choice (I don't know why, possibly they're easier to herd) and three principal companies have fish ranches at various points on (or more likely, off) the coast.  Salmon, it would appear are being bred at a frightening rate, and herein lies the problem.  Just recently one of the fish farmers has broken ranks with the others to announce that (nothwithstanding industry statements to the contrary) the sheer volume of salmon in Macquarie Harbour, Strachan is getting to be a bit of a problem.  Apparently you can walk across the harbour without getting your feet wet so great is the preponderance of salmon.  Ships frequently run aground on massive fish shoals and some salmon have broken down the fences and joined the wild salmon herds roaming free or something like that.

Gangs of teenage salmon are lurking in drains beating up the unwary and the oxygen content of the water is getting a little sub standard.  What happens if the oxygen content gets too low?  Presumably the fish die.  Is it wrong of me to consider this a self solving problem?  This blogs piscine affairs reporter sent back accounts of desperate fish struggling for breath which are no less horrifying for being completely made up.  Apparently disaster is on the way or, as industry in Tasmania would put it, business as usual.  There are calls for the government to do something about this (what exactly do you do with too many salmon?  Institute a "sushi only" policy in government canteens?). Unfortunately the government is busy chasing imaginary foxes.

Foxes are apparently the malignant fear that keeps all Tasmanians up at night.  Are there foxes in the state?  Could there be?  Might some come if we don't have a strong border policy?  WHY ISN'T THE GOVERNMENT DOING MORE TO PROTECT US FROM FOXES!!!

For some reason foxes worry Tasmanians.  OK, they're an introduced species, they do untold damage to the environment and they're generally undesirable.  So far you've just described pretty much every industry in Tasmania.  Still foxes are, apparently, the line in the sand.  According to this blogs introduced predators reporter the Tasmanian government has spent $50 million dollars in recent years looking for foxes that might not be there.  Frightening evidence of fox presence largely in the form of scat (a technical term for shit) has been found, and analysed to death by various coprophiliac scientists on the government payroll.  However whether this is fox scat and if it is whether it was actually recovered in Tasmania or was smuggled into the state for the sole purpose of justifying a $50 million dollar fox hunting programme is currently being debated. 

If there are foxes in Tasmania they're keeping a pretty low profile and any devastation they're causing amongst the native wildlife seems to have been skilfully concealed amongst the overall devastation of the native wildlife which can be attributed to Tasmania conducting business as usual.  I sent this blog's mythical threat reporter out into the Tasmanian wilderness to see if she could find any foxes.  She responded with a photo of a dead fox by the side of the road. 
"Proof!" I shouted.  "Man the barricades, distribute weapons to the children, prepare for war, the fox hordes are approaching."
"Not necessarily," replied my intrepid correspondent.  The fox in question was found on the road next to some rather suspicious looking tire treads which seem to indicate someone may have driven up and dumped a dead fox in the road.  An autopsy is currently being conducted on the fox to see if this can shed any more light on the subject.

Sighing in disgust I sent her back out into the wilderness and told her not to come back without foxes.  Sadly all she could find was collapsed telegraph poles and inappropriately dressed Chinese tourists.  The Chinese tourists had come for a bushwalk apparently under the impression that they were going for a stroll along a boardwalk.  As such they were finding the pavement a little soggy and distressingly devoid of concrete and the ladies high heels had a tendency to sink in at awkward moments.  As for the telegraph poles, well this part of Tasmania has had a lot of rain lately.  It turns out that the poles carrying electricity to the good folk of Tasmania who live in these parts weren't really inserted with the expectation that the ground might get wet.  Now that it has a number of them have fallen over.  I suggested to my correspondent that she might like to inform the government of this but apparently they've blown the entire budget on mystery foxes.