Monday, July 24, 2017

Wetsuits and Fake Sharks

When a video of a man dressed in a wetsuit with prosthetic fish attachments thrashing around in the water is encountered you can be forgiven for thinking the viewer accidentally popped onto some piscine porn channel while innocently searching for  When you learn that the video is on the Discovery Channel you realise that the person was actually searching for Nazi Gold Secret Super Weapon Megastructures of World War II Revealed or whatever the latest "let's milk hideous carnage, genocide and global war for a few more dollars" documentary is this week.

Normally the Discovery Channel focusses on making money by watching other people do stuff.  In Deadliest Catch they watch crab fishermen fish for crabs.  In Diesel Brothers they watch truck customisers customise trucks.  In Moonshiners they watch moonshiners shining moons (I presume, I haven't actually seen that one).  Every so often however they put aside what is essentially high quality workplace security footage and roll out "Shark Week" or "Shark Month" or possibly even "Shark Decade".  This is a period of time that the Discovery Channel dedicates to exploiting the crap out of sharks.

Anything shark related is fair game but preferably focussing on sharp teeth, high body counts and the sheer impossibility of the human being lasting for more than a second or two when brought into contact with this aquatic killing machine.  Pretty soon they'll just be shovelling puppies into a shark tank and filming the results.  Before they reach that pinnacle of televisual nirvana however there was the obligatory man vs shark competition. 

You know what these things are like.  You take an animal that is famous for doing something rather well and you pit it against a human being in a contest to see which is the better.  Running races with cheetahs for example or, in this case, a swimming competition with a shark.  It's fair to say that sharks are rather good at swimming.  Sharks who can't swim are a rare breed indeed.  We never sit a shark and a person down and see which of them is the first to count to a hundred. 

In this instance the human race was represented by Michael Phelps a former Olympian (apparently in swimming) and generally a poor man's Kieren Perkins.  To make this pathetic forgone conclusion slightly more interesting (or at least more amusing) they dressed Michael in a wetsuit and added a wacking big fin.  The big moment came and sadly Michael came up wanting as the shark powered past him for an easy win.

There was immediate outrage from the viewing public but the outrage wasn't directed at the result.  Apparently not even the Discovery Channel was prepared to risk the life of a former Olympian and as result the race took place between Michael Phelps and a CGI shark.  The response from the viewing public was furious; fake news hashtags were thrown about (since when is a guy in a wetsuit with a artificial fin racing an imaginary shark any sort of news at all?) and there was a general feeling that the Discovery Channel had led its viewers on by promising something it failed to deliver on.  That doesn't sound like the Discovery Channel does it?

The big takeaway from this is that a large number of people were hoping to see Michael Phelps dumped into a hostile environment with one of the supreme killers of the sea.  One suspects that the earnest hope of most was blood on the water.  Michael might want to change his address, he's obviously less popular than he thought.  As for the Discovery Channel it has learnt its lesson.  I understand they're trucking the puppies to the studio as we speak.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Tick Tock Tick Tock

Normally the headquarters of my blog posting empire is a quiet, nay, tranquil place.  Greenery abounds, peacocks stroll about pecking at the ground.  A waterfall cascades scenically down one specially sculpted wall to an ornamental pond near my desk.  Due to a slight design flaw the waterfall does tend to sweep away the peacocks and drown them in the ornamental pond but on the plus side I haven't had to feed the koi in years.

A few days ago, however, this idyllic spot was marred by an undignified shouting match.  My Belorussian tech support have done the impossible and hooked up a permanent and reliable communications system between myself and my Tasmanian correspondent (apparently its a side effect of something they're doing for the North Korean government).  Sadly the first use of this technological miracle was to enable the pair of us to get into a massive argument.

I wanted to hear how Mr Moo was getting on.  Specifically I wanted to hear if he was still alive.  My correspondent, however, was reluctant to make the trip.  Apparently the highways of Tasmania have been taken over by feral road gangs (or gangs of rogue ferrets, my correspondent was a little unclear on this point) and she was determined never to leave the safety of the city again.  I pointed out that she lived in Hobart and it was only by the greatest of generosity that she could claim to be in a city right now. 

This burst of reality didn't go down well and soon terms like "coward" and "perverted leather freak" were being tossed back and forth rapidly followed by outrage (on her part) and demands to keep out of my browser history (on mine).  Eventually we came to an acceptable compromise; she decided to send her kids instead.

Eager to prove themselves as capable field reporters as their mother the two girls soon sent back a ream of information on Middleton (the general location of Mr Moo) most of which I had absolutely no interest in.  The girls names are Olive and TOTIO (The One That Isn't Olive) and they immediately uncovered a dreadful scandal.  Middleton has no fire station!  I must admit this didn't surprise me until they explained that it does have a fire brigade.  Apparently the vehicles are kept at various people's houses which probably doesn't do anything for their response times.

Against my better judgement I asked why Middleton doesn't have a fire station.  Apparently it used to.  What happened to it?  It burnt down.  Why?  Someone set it on fire.  Who?  A fireman.

At this point I thought I was on to something.  Was this a desperate cry for help by some overworked and under appreciated member of our emergency services (first responders I believe they're called in the US)?  Could this be a political act designed to highlight the dreadful underfunding and poor support given to our brigades in rural areas?  Are these noble hose jockeys, our bravest of the brave, reaching breaking point?

No, he was just a pyromaniac.  To be on the safe side they've decided its probably better if he isn't a fireman any more.  He's also in gaol which makes it difficult for him to get to training.  I lost interest and told the girls to focus on Mr Moo.

Sad news on the Mr Moo front.  The writing which has been on the wall for some time is now being chiselled in letters of gold ten feet high.  It would appear that Mr Moo's owners are quite determined to put him on the next truck to the abattoir and no amount of grandchildrenly tears from my mini correspondents could persuade them otherwise.  Every day is precious for Mr Moo now and for those who have developed a fondness for him which has nothing to do with diane sauce need to prepare themselves for the inevitable loss.  The most we can hope for now is that he graces the tables of some of the finest restaurants and doesn't wind up consigned to a McDonalds somewhere.  Surely Mr Moo is entitled to this at least.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Lie to Me Baby!

I would like to take a moment to speak in favour of hypocrisy.  At first glance hypocrisy may appear indefensible.  Two faced dishonesty and a personal flouting of the moral strictures one claims to uphold are fundamentally bad things.  Time and again we sigh with weary disgust as some public figure or other turns out to have feet of clay.  We mutter angrily as police are revealed to be corrupt, religious figures turn out to be depraved maniacs and our business leaders show themselves to be two bit crooks in expensive suits (and with far less likelihood of gaol time).  Hypocrisy degrades the good in this world, tarnishes our achievements and makes the light of our civilisation shine a little more dimly in the night.  Hypocrisy is a bad thing!  But it's also a good thing or, at least, it's a useful thing which is frequently more important.  It isn't only the good things in this world hypocrisy degrades, it also degrades the bad things.

Imagine a world without hypocrisy for a moment.  A world of unrelenting honesty and refusal to compromise.  A world where our political leaders said exactly what they meant and (assuming any of them could get elected afterwards) would attempt to implement their policies without fear, favour or concern for consequences.  Imagine speaking the unvarnished truth to your friends on every occasion and now try to imagine how many of them would still be your friends afterwards.  If we have a friend who's a police officer we don't necessarily expect them to fix a speeding ticket but we certainly don't expect them to arrest us for inducing corruption if we bring the subject up.

Hypocrisy is what enables people to fight for what is good when they aren't that good themselves and defend principles they don't necessarily believe in because they recognise the worth of those principles.  On a deeper, less conscious level hypocrisy is what enables a racist to run into a burning building to save a child from a race different to their own.  It is hypocrisy that allows campaigners for freedom and justice to accept an imperfect solution if the alternative is nothing at all.  Similarly it is hypocrisy which allows their opponents to make concessions while assuring supporters they have conceded nothing at all.

We lie, we dissemble, we compromise.  We accept second rate solutions as being better than no solution at all.  We fail to live up to our ideals on a daily basis but the ideals are still there and we reach out towards them even if we do so with one hand deliberately behind our backs.  To be a hypocrite is to be human and the less hypocritical we are the less human we are likely to be.  To be without hypocrisy is to be without pity, without empathy and without mercy.  If you are right then why bother to concern yourself with those who are wrong?  If we were without hypocrisy the very best we could hope for is a world rather like that of Judge Dredd.  For those who rail against the hypocrisy and deceitfulness of our politicians I would point out that the only politician of modern times who can legitimately claim to escape the charge of hypocrisy is Adolf Hitler.

If you read this blog entry and roll your eyes and tell each other that I'm talking rubbish I really don't mind, as long as you say you like it to my face.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Aspiring to a Freak Show

There is a new television show gracing our screens at the moment.  It's called Australian Ninja Warrior.  Presumably to differentiate it from Australian Ninja Garbage Collector.  I can't wait for the moment when they start killing each other with katanas and throwing stars.  In fact maybe they could do that bit first.

I took a quick glance at this ratings phenomenon (and apparently it is a ratings phenomenon) and got a curious sense of deja vu.  In my younger days there was a tv show called "It's A Knockout" which involved people undertaking ridiculous physical trials so that their failures could be broadcast to the nation who would take pleasure at these miserable creatures debasing themselves for the entertainment of others.  It was your standard modern day freak show.  Well Australian Ninja Warrior is like that only now the contestants, rather than being held up as pitiable dregs of humanity they are, are being marketed as aspirational figures; people to look up to.

I suppose this is progress although in which direction I wouldn't care to speculate.  On the one hand fitness, a healthy lifestyle and a competitive nature are laudable qualities so to praise them can't be too bad a thing.  On the other hand apparently the most useful thing you can do with these qualities is to throw yourself across the obstacle course from hell while a howling mob cheers you on and privately hopes you break a leg.

The word "Ninja" in the title is a dead giveaway of course but even if it hadn't been there a TV show that focusses on torturing its contestants to the point of death pretty much had to originate in Japan.  This seems to be what they specialise in.  Each country has its particular field of ghastly television expertise.  Britain for instance seems to produce an endless series of "reality" TV shows that can best be collectively titled "Tattooed Douchebags and Dumb Drunk Tarts" while America prides itself on being able to gather together a collection of fundamentally uninteresting people with one particular thing in common (like being housewives or midgets) and then pretending that anyone else on the planet might have a reason to give a shit about them.

Australia doesn't seem to have a genre of its own.  Instead we take all of the others and make pale shadows of them.  Australian viewers then tend to ignore these in favour of the originals from overseas.  Here's the thing about freak shows.  They're a lot easier to enjoy if you don't think you might be part of the act. 

The promotional video for Australian Ninja Warrior hypes the "ordinary Aussies" theme.  You know, these people are just like you and me.  Only they're not.  Whatever you say about their career choices and willingness to be hurt for the amusement of the television public they aren't ordinary Australians.  They're tough, dedicated, fit and driven.  Ordinary Australians are more like me; ageing, lazy and the closest we get to an obstacle course is when we trip over our slippers on the way from the kitchen to the armchair to watch the next episode of Australian Ninja Warrior. 

Of course all of the competitors have a backstory.  Apparently you can't get out of bed without having a backstory nowadays.  We, the audience, are supposed to be engaged by these backstories.  They help us to share the hopes, dreams, pain and anguish of the competitors.  Why?  I personally don't care what happens to any of these people.  Did the Romans waste everybodies time providing a backstory for people thrown to the lions?  Just poke the monkeys with a stick and make them dance for god's sake.

Not that I'll be watching Australian Ninja Warrior too much.  I have too much self respect and empathy for my fellow human beings.  I take no great pleasure in having others tortured for my amusement.  Also it clashes with Total Divas on Fox 8.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Fancy Some Ribs?

According to the juice bottle lids which have recently replaced Wikipedia as my primary reference tool one person in twenty has an extra rib.  Or, to put it another way, nineteen out of every twenty are unaccountably lacking in the rib department.  I must admit that as soon as I read that little snippet I surreptitiously started counting my ribs to see if I was one of the favoured few.  I stopped when I realised that I have no idea how many ribs a human is supposed to possess.  Possibly the answer is under the lid of a juice bottle I didn't buy.

Right now I can imagine my mother saying something like, "Oh good, he's drinking fruit juice," while my father is saying something like, "well at least the quality of his research has improved?"

But an extra rib, how cool would that be?  Not as great as an extra arm of course; with an extra arm I could read a book, drink coffee and change the channels on my TV simultaneously.  Still an extra rib has its advantages.  If somebody needed a rib transplant the favoured person could step forward and say, "take one of mine, I have more than I need," while everyone else stared in admiration.

Cannibals (you knew we'd get there eventually) would prize the extra ribbed person highly although in a barbecue sauce related way which might not necessarily please the subject of their admiration too much.  If you cracked a rib you'd have another standing by doing nothing that could take up the slack.  The benefits of possessing an extra rib are simply too numerous to mention.

Which leads me to wonder; why stop at one?  If you can have an extra rib why can't you have two, or three, or four, or well you see where I'm going with this.  If we had multiple extra ribs our stomaches and internal organs would finally get the protection they need.  We do have an odd body.  Our heads have plate armour, our chests are protected by the sort of laminar armour that is our rib cage but when we got down to things like our liver, stomache, intestines and, of course, genitals apparently evolution just said, "screw it, it should be fine". 

The human being is like a tortoise in reverse.  Rather than having a hard shell protecting the body that everything else can withdraw into we have a hard shell protecting the head that nothing can withdraw into.  Memo to head; all of that skull isn't going to do you any good if all the soft leaky bits attached to it get cut off or otherwise rendered non viable.

Personally what I think we need is overlapping ribs that can concertina down our bodies in time of need.  The moment danger threatens we could be encased in ribcage down to our ankles.  This would provide much needed protection.  Especially since, if we were encased in ribcage down to our ankles, we certainly wouldn't be running away very quickly.  If we fell over at this point we'd rather resemble earthworms with rigor mortis.  If the danger was very pressing this resemblance would become more and more accurate.

OK, so the sliding ribcage armour needs a little work.  Let's not throw the idea away just yet.  There may be a practical purpose for an extra rib, we just need to find it.  We don't want to discourage evolution from trying new things.  If nothing else with a few extra ribs imagine what a hell of a xylophone we'd make.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Silly After Action Report

Oberst von Kattelrussler paused briefly in the narrow street of the recently overrun village.  Lovingly he ran a hand down the brickwork of the medieval church that dominated the small cluster of buildings. 
"Beautiful," he murmured, "just beautiful."  Idly he flicked his swagger stick at a butterfly floating in the air between him and the building.  The butterfly dodged and he flicked a little harder.  Again the butterfly danced out of his way.

When Junior Officer arrived ten minutes later he found his commanding officer spreadeagled full length on the road cursing hysterically and thrashing at some invisible target with his swagger stick.  Although still low in rank Junior Officer was far too experienced to ask questions like, "What are doing sir?" or "Are you all right sir?" or even, "Pardon me sir but you appear to be batshit crazy."  Instead he saluted awkwardly, his bandages still pulled, and waited for his commanding officer to wipe the foam from his mouth and acknowledge his presence.

Reluctantly von Kattelrussler pushed himself into a standing position and returned Junior Officer's salute.  Von Kattelrussler prided himself on being able to read the facial features of his men and he knew immediately that Junior Officer was unhappy.

"Problems at home Junior Officer?" he asked sympathetically.  "Have you found out about the wife and the milkman?  And the dustman, and the carpet salesman and the staff of the Hyperion CafĂ© in Bitburg?"
"I'm not surprised it's all round the regiment, tough luck old man.  The thing is to buck up and look on the bright side."
"Actually I was a little concerned about our deployment here sir?  We're sitting in this village, the guns are being hauled down this road, our reinforcements are coming up that road and von Kummerbund is off with the armour somewhere.  We're badly spread out."
"Don't worry your pretty little head about it JO.  The Poles will never see us behind all those trees."
"You mean the trees which would be ideal for concealing a counterattack?"
"Those are the ones, keenly spotted."
"Very good sir," lied Junior Officer, he turned to go but then, "honestly sir, a carpet salesman?"
"Fraid so, he's my cousin."

We shall leave Junior Officer to his marital problems and focus on the AAR.  The latest Poland in Flames scenario Ivan and I have taken it upon ourselves to play is BFP 122 At Sword's Point.  I don't know why its called that there isn't a sword in sight.  In a current change from the "German's trying to capture a village scenario" we've seen so often this time the German's already have the village and the Poles are trying to take it back.

I am commanding the Poles who start with a big advantage in numbers and support weapons an advantage that dwindles over the course of the scenario as casualties mount and a plethora of German reinforcements arrive.  I gain victory points for casualties inflicted and also for any troops/support weapons with LOS and range to the road running through the middle of the board area.  Ivan starts up with a handful of second rate troops (von Kattelrussler's long suffering staff) plus a couple of officers in the village.  Over on the left truck loads of reinforcements are trundling in and far to the right artillery pieces which appear to be being pulled by oxcart are (very) slowly making their way to the battlefield.  Ivan gets some elite reinforcements on turn three, a whole mess of tanks and motorised infantry a turn or two later and at around the same time a pair of fighter bombers carrying a staggering bomb load.

The Poles have a large collection of squads, four tanks of reasonable quality, a trio of 75mm guns that can kill anything on the board, two of those wretched 46mm mortars that always work for Ivan but never for me and artillery support. 

Starting positions.

For the Poles the job has to be to pretty much wipe out the onboard German force and seize the village before the reinforcements arrive.  I'm afraid I was too cautious and didn't press hard enough when I should have.  I set up a massive kill stack (three squads with two hmgs and an mmg guided by a 9-2 leader.  My artillery spotter I set up to cover the village while I posted a gun and one of the mortars out to the right to see what they could do about the guns Ivan had approaching.  Another gun was posted next to my kill stack where it could cover the road and the front of the village while the third was set up to protect against any flanking attack from the left.  To help cover the left flank I set up another kill stack with two squads and an mmg guided by my 9-1 plus a few other squads in foxholes.

The first couple of turns were reasonably quiet.  I opened my account by killing a couple of trucks and the squad one of them was carrying.  Oh, and of course I broke one of the mortars.  The other would survive the game by the simple expedient of not being used.  In the centre I started infiltrating through the woods to try and capture the village.  In retrospect I moved to cautiously here.  I should have gone for a little more speed and taken the associated risks to get into the village more quickly.  In revenge for losing his squad Ivan managed to break my entire left hand kill stack with a crappy 1+1 shot which broke both squads and the 9-1 leader.  These clowns wouldn't rally for three whole turns and only after killing a half squad in the attempt.  My artillery proved mediocre at best but did break a squad and made occupying forward positions in the village problematic at best.  On the right his horse drawn guns approached the battlefield at a speed normally associated with continental drift.

A slow start, maybe a little too slow
I had split my tank force into two groups of two to cover the left and right but with my troops now pushing towards the village I sent my right hand tanks to assist.  Or rather I sent one because Ivan unshipped one of his guns from its oxcart and burnt the other with a critical hit at over twenty hexes range.  In return my right hand 75 killed another cart, gun, crew and all without losing concealment.  The surviving right hand tank duly assisted my infantry getting into the village until it was killed by the 20mm AA gun which frankly I'd forgotten he had.

Ivan brought his assault engineers in on my left flank as anticipated.  Despite the crushing of my kill stack I had a couple of other squads in good positions and a pair of tanks to support.  Ivan however used a brilliant tactic (running in the open through pointblank -2 fire) and swiftly unhinged my position.  Rolling low is definitely a winning strategy.  One of the left hand tanks held the line for a while until it was toasted by a flamethrower.  Still I managed to patch together enough troops to make it look like I had a defence.  Ivan's armoured cars rolled up to support his village garrison but proved vulnerable to atr fire.

The next couple of turns were a desperate scramble on the left to persuade his assault engineers not to sweep over the top of me while my village force managed to grind slowly forward.  I drove off the crew of his AA gun and gleefully seized it for my own which at the very least made Ivan a little nervous.  Meanwhile Ivan managed to battle harden a wounded 6+1 leader into a heroic wounded 6+1 leader.  We're still not entirely sure whether that's a good thing or not.  Naturally one of his half squads managed to kill an entire squad of mine in close combat and at some point I managed to destroy my 46mm mortar attempting to repair it.  Good riddance.  Of more significance Ivan had done the same with one of his artillery pieces leaving only two plodding slowly towards the village.  My 75mm was waiting for them.  One moved into my line of sight, I fired and broke that gun too.  On a positive note a half squad on my left had plunged into close combat with an enemy leader, ambushed it, killed it and then withdrew covered with glory.  It would die soon.

Ivan's armoured reinforcements and air support turned up simultaneously.  The tanks and mounted infantry raced towards the battle while the air support suddenly made moving very difficult for me.  Attempts to reinforce my position in the village left nothing but shreds of bloodied cloth lying about in the street.  I had most of the village now but it was thinly held and the number of German squads charging towards the battle was positively frightening.  

Midgame, the last time my position would look good.
Casualties on both sides had been appalling.  I had a handful of squads in the village and a couple more plus my 9-2 kill stack still hiding in its foxhole in the woods at the top.  Ivan's left flankers rolled almost up to the position but some pointblank fire from my last 75 managed to stop them from rolling right over the top of me.  With tank and gun assistance Ivan remorselessly reduced my position in the village grinding me down over the next few turns until my total force there consisted of a couple of squads and a leader hiding out in the church praying for their lives.  It all cost casualties though.  Ivan was pressing hard trying to wipe out the last of my force and an ill advised flanking attempt with a PzIV left another burning wreck on the battlefield.

Last turn and somehow I've won

At the end of turn 7 I was preparing for the destruction of my remaining force when Ivan realised to his horror that he had forgotten to use his air support on the final turn it was available.  He had been saving the bombs to take out my kill stack and 75mm which would have drastically reduced the firepower I could bring onto the victory road.  The casualty count was close to equal and those points were the difference between victory and defeat.  Reluctantly Ivan conceded; he couldn't get close enough to my troops in the woods to hurt them and the casualties he had taken meant he absolutely needed to take those guys out.  So I guess I won.  In actual fact I won because of a fit of absent mindedness on Ivan's part.  Two mistakes were critical, mine in not getting into the village faster with more troops and Ivan's in forgetting his air support.  Fortunately for me it was the last that was decisive.  Thanks to Ivan for the game, we'll play again when I get back from Borneo.

Major von Kummerbund brushed shattered bits of PzIV off his uniform and crossed the devastated street to where Oberst von Kattelrussler stood in front of a church with tears in his eyes.

"Why did you dismiss the air support Herr Oberst?  That last attack would have been successful if the Luftwaffe had helped us out with their bombs."
"I was afraid they'd damage the church," replied von Kattelrussler.  "It's a medieval treasure."

Von Kummerbund looked at the church, it was smouldering and riddled with bullet holes.  Antitank rifle rounds had punched large holes in the brickwork and Polish artillery had scored at least one direct hit.  He peered closer at the foundation stone.
"It says here the church was built in 1935."
"That's medieval isn't it?"
"No sir, not even in this part of Poland."
"It's still beautiful," replied von Kattelrussler reaching out and patting some of the shattered brickwork.  A dreadful creaking interrupted him as the whole structure collapsed, from somewhere inside came an agonised scream. Von Kummerbund stared in horror, 
"Was that Junior Officer?"
"Fraid so, he hasn't been having a good time lately."
"I know, my brother is the head waiter at the Hyperion Cafe in Bitburg."