Saturday, September 28, 2019

Good Speech, Now Time to go to Work

Greta Thunberg recently addressed a meeting of the United Nations on the subject of climate change. At least I presume it was on the subject of climate change, I don't have the full transcript in front of me and naturally the media focused on those bits where she was essentially tearing the assembled representatives a new one.  Various conservative pundits have lined up to criticise her but I can't help feeling there's a certain amount of jealousy involved there.  Having the opportunity to front the UN and lambast it for inadequacy, failure and general uselessness must be pretty close to their wet dream.  It's quite the achievement for Greta as well, previously a teenage girl had to get shot in the face before she got an opportunity like that.

Greta's activism and particularly her speech have had two very predictable results.  She has been canonised as a saint by those who support her and vilified by those opposed, so far so normal.  There are a couple of points that I would make.  Whatever Greta Thunberg may achieve in the way of climate change abatement she hasn't done it yet.  Nor has what she has done so far got her any appreciable distance towards that goal.  Her challenge now is not to berate a roomful of largely irrelevant deadbeats but to persuade seven thousand million people that things have got to change.

Because this is how things change.  Individuals may lead movements but the movement has to be there for them to lead.  The population at large decides and governments and corporations will go along with it the first to protect their jobs and the second to protect their profits.  It will take a while and is largely incremental.  There won't be a light bulb moment but if all goes well Greta will wake up one day to find the world has fundamentally changed while still feeling thoroughly familiar.  To do this people need to be informed and they need to be concerned.  What they don't need is to be terrified.  Terrified people do not make good decisions.  You don't terrify people so that they make good decisions, you terrify them so they will obey your orders no matter what the quality of the decision.

It seems to be axiomatic in climate activist circles that the only thing that can save us is massive government intervention and sacrifice on the part of the general population.  Wrong and wrong.  The only thing massive government intervention has ever successfully produced is an equally massive body count.  Government action will be needed of course, but to codify what the people have already decided and, where necessary, to punish the outliers who transgress.  Still less is sacrifice a useful tool.  Sacrifice implies that we have done something wrong and must be punished.

We haven't done anything wrong.  We have built a staggeringly successful civilisation that has lifted a portion of the world's population (including me) to unheard of levels of health and comfort while simultaneously holding up a signpost to guide those who haven't yet got there.  Along the way there were some unintended consequences one of which is what concerns Greta Thunberg (and many others of course).  There are almost certainly other consequences that we won't even notice for another century or so.  However when we address those consequences we will do it with a spectacular array of scientific and technical tools to assist us.  The creations of this self same civilisation.  The hour may be late but I wouldn't bet against us.

One of the frequent jibes made against climate activists by their (usually right wing) opponents is that they are essentially using the issue as a false flag operation to propagate a leftist political agenda.  Which is rather like the pot calling the kettle black (please note however that both pot and kettle are black). I don't actually believe this charge but what I do believe is that when people consider a problem they immediately fall back a on solution that conforms with what they would want done anyway (as I did above).  Hence calls for massive government intervention and sacrifice.

Incidentally when I say we shouldn't sacrifice I don't mean we shouldn't change.  We will have to come up with different, better, more sustainable ways of doing things to keep our society and improve our comfort levels without inadvertently cooking the planet.  The challenge for those who wish to lead us towards this goal is to find those ways and convince us of both their necessity and convenience.

For Greta Thunberg the work has just begun.  She's done the fun part of the job but the hard work is still ahead.  She is passionate, dedicated and, according to reports, quite ferociously intelligent.  Good, she'll need all of that.  She will also need to learn how to speak to people more important than the representatives at the UN (pretty much anyone comes to mind).  She'll need to teach and set an example, guide and persuade.  It will be difficult, it will take time and if she's successful its quite possible nobody will notice at least not until somebody looks back from a hundred years into the future and realises that we didn't die after all.  The speech to the UN was dramatic but telling a bunch of grown ups that they've ruined her life doesn't make her a saviour.  It just makes her a teenager.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Good and Bad News for Dolphins but Mainly Bad

"Forgive me father for I have sinned, it has been thirteen days since my last blog post."

"You're forgiven," replied my father.  "Also, who gave you our number?"

Despite the absence of your scribe to record events the world has kept staggering on approaching the inevitable heat death of the universe with, by this stage, a certain amount of anticipation.  Along the way a teenager lambasted various politicians for destroying her future (after that performance she'd better hope she's right), some Americans decided to impeach their president (for seeking help to discredit a political opponent who has proved perfectly capable of discrediting himself) and the British government became even more of a slobbering farce than it was the previous day (due to all sorts of things but basically boiled down to the fact that the only people qualified to arrange Brexit would rather drown their children in the bath whereas all the politicians in favour of Brexit would be intellectually challenged running a bath) oh and dolphins in the English Channel have unacceptably high levels of PCBs.

I was astounded; given that the English Channel is made up of approximately equal parts oil slicks and discarded condoms I couldn't believe that dolphins lived in the thing at all.  The fact that dolphins with such a low rent address have health issues is somewhat more believable.  PCBs are, ok, I've no idea what they are but apparently they're some sort of chemically thing that we used to pump into the environment for kicks.  They have bad impacts on living things, particularly larger living things.  At this point its probably a good thing elephants aren't aquatic.  Dolphins unfortunately are one of the larger living things PCBs have a bad impact on.

Apparently it mucks about with a dolphins ability to reproduce. It's also passed from mother to child so even if a dolphin does manage to reproduce (and since we still have dolphins presumably some do) that is no guarantee that the next generation will be blessed with the splishy splash of tiny flippers.  If we really want to guarantee dolphin survival (I'm going out on a limb and assuming most people do) then we have to get rid of the PCBs.  Unfortunately there's a problem, we stopped pumping PCBs into the water system decades ago.  The PCBs currently causing the problem date from prior to our stopping and are actually in the dolphins themselves thus making them a little difficult to get rid of.  At least they're difficult to get rid of if you want a live dolphin population at the end of the exercise.  If not set up a few dolphin blenders and get to work.

PCBs are only one of the problems facing the dolphins.  Being an apex predator may seem cool if your sole experience with such things is watching The Lion King but what it actually means is that essentially the dolphins are landfill for every piece of crap in the foodchain.  Dolphins in the channel have so much mercury in them that they actually hover several feet above the waves on hot days.  They contain so many pesticides that grating a dolphin over your fields would be an effective way of protecting your crops and this is before we even get to the PCBs.

If we ever succeed in completely cleaning up the oceans we're going to have to accept that a lot of the larger sea life probably no longer meets health and safety standards.  There are two positive things to come out the above somewhat depressing survey.  Firstly we still have dolphins which shows a remarkable amount of resilience.  Secondly the presence of this cocktail of chemical death will hopefully persuade people not to eat them.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Silly After Action Report

Captain Hiroki Yabadabadu peered down the railway line.  In the distance he could see a small group of dark skinned men clustered around a mortar.

"Who the hell are they?" he muttered.

"Gurkhas," replied Colonel Matsu.  "Yet another example of English colonialism enslaving the Asian races.  In the emperor's name we will crush them."

"So we're going to attack?"

"Sort of, we'll send the Burmese first to catch bullets.  It's the least they can do since we're liberating them."

"Are you sure we can rely on the Burmese?"

"It's possible death against the Gurkhas as opposed to certain death right here.  If they object we'll liberate them from breathing.  Do you have a concern?"

"I'm just not sure its wise to place a lot of faith in people who plan their battles with the assistance of an astrologer.  It would have been better to go in before dawn but apparently 2.15pm on a day with an "r" in it was the most propitious time."

"All the more reason to let them go first."

So (briefly) leaving the Italians behind Mike Sexton and I decided to play AP 91 - Parting Shots which features a group of Gurkhas given the thankless task of making the British retreat from Burma look like slightly less of a shambling disaster than it actually was.  A dice roll gave Mike the subcontinental supermen while I took command of a bunch of Japanese generously engaged in spreading the Greater South East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere to a part of South East Asia from which prosperity was conspicuously absent.  For comedy relief the Japanese have a couple of squads of Burmese "soldiers" attached.

Victory is gained by the side which amasses the most victory points as represented by a combination of bodycount and control of multihex buildings. Light jungle is in effect and all buildings are wooden.  There's also an embanked railway running the length of the theatre doing little except forcing Mike and I to look up the hillock rules which I'm reasonably certain we got more or less right, ish.  Mike has six elite squads and an equal number of halfsquads, a pair of 51mm mortars and a single light machine gun the whole commanded by some reasonably capable officers.  Late in the day he's reinforced by another squad, lmg and leader carted around in an IP carrier.

I have ten squads evenly divided between elite and first line plus a pair of elite halfsquads, two 50mm mortars and two lmgs.  Three sword wielding egomaniacs are present to urge their hapless charges forward.  Also present are two partisan squads, a lmg and a distinctly sub par officer represent collaborationist Burmese forces.  Their principal role is as guides, helping their Japanese masters, sorry, liberators through the jungle.  The set up rules require my entire force to be clustered around the railway line because soldiers naturally gravitate to places where its easy to see and kill them.  Below is the at start set up showing my unimaginative clump of forces and Mike's troops waiting to give them a kukri lesson.  I'm sorry, that joke was bad even for this blog.

Set up
My first job was to breach Mike's forward line and I dipped into traditional Japanese tactics (charging madly at the enemy) to do so.  I had a pair of half squads up on the railway line, all jokes about Burmese bullet catchers notwithstanding the job of these guys was to die usefully for the emperor.  I weighted my attack to my right.  Here I placed all of my elite squads, both lmgs, a halfsquad with a mortar and a pair of leaders.  A 9-1 led a stack of two squads and lmgs with a Burmese squad attached to guide them through the jungle.  On the left side of the railway track were my first line squads, another mortar team and my final leader.  Stacked with the leader and his boys was the other Burmese squad.  Mike had set up one of his mortars to fire straight down the railway line and discourage exactly what I was about to do.  He must have mistaken me for someone who cares about the lives of his troops.

My first turn was disturbingly successful.  A halfsquad charged madly down the railway line cheerfully ignoring a rain of mortar bombs and bounced one of the concealed units adjacent.  Defensive fire broke him (and a subsequent mortar round would kill him) but his work was done. Another halfsquad did the same to the other rail line adjacent unit and actually survived.  That achieved I pushed my main stacks through the jungle to close up with the revealed units.  One squad I sent into CC with a halfsquad.  It was half successful, both Gurkhas and Japanese use hand to hand which makes close combat a spectacularly bloody affair.  I killed his half squad but in return he casualty reduced my squad so CVP were even.  In better news advancing fire broke the full squad he had on the right of the railway line opening up a lot of space for my Japanese to exploit.

End of my turn 1

Mike decided skulking was the better part of valour so the principal thing that happened in his first turn was my assembling of my mortars (smoke, for the purposes of). My second turn consisted of consolidating the gains I had made and moving up to where I could launch the second stage of my attack, hopefully behind a shroud of smoke.  I pushed a halfsquad forward to strip his remaining forward unit on the left of concealment.  He took his shot and striped a squad but in return I managed to pin him.  With half the population of Japan bearing down on him Mike decided to voluntarily break and get the hell out of Dodge.  Probably the best idea and it wasn't really Mike's fault that the gutless bastards didn't rally for the remainder of the game.  Over on the right some well placed defensive fire broke another of his units that fled yelping to the back of the building.

End of my turn 2
Turn three rolled around and I was ready to launch my main attack.  Over on the left an impressive looking stack garrisoned the forward multihex building.  I was certain (correctly) that it would be an lmg equipped squad guided by a high quality leader.  That's why I have mortars.  The mortar crew on the left reached for the WP shells only to find they'd left them in Thailand.  Fortunately they had been less careless with the smoke rounds and I managed to blanket his position with enough smoke to blind them.  On a side note Mike is in much the same position himself courtesy of Indonesian forest fires.  My happy experience with smoke came to an end at that point.  I had intended to use my mortar on the right to drop some smoke to cover my approach to the multihex building immediately to my front.  Unfortunately these clowns had left both their smoke and their WP behind.  Somebody's going to get it in the neck, with a sword, once this scenario is over.  With his most potent force choking I raced a halfsquad around into the building behind them.  I could babble about blocking rout paths but actually for some reason I had forgotten that I actually needed to control the building before I could claim the victory points.  Fortunately Mike had more immediate things to worry about.  I also sent a halfsquad plunging forward to capture unoccupied buildings in Mike's rear.

With smoke unavailable on the right I fell back on more traditional methods.  I herded the Burmese out into the open where Mike's defensive fire broke both leader and squad.  With Mike's defenders thus distracted I pushed troops forward near the railway line and snuggled a concealed stack up near his remaining forward defenders on the right.  Close combat was my friend for once (ok 2-1 odds with a -1 leader) and I had cleared him away from the railway line while his remaining troops on the right would have to run across open ground swept by fire if they wanted to get back to the building.  On the far left I pushed my striped squad forward to keep his brokies under DM.  This they achieved but in return found themselves under fire from Mike's other mortar.  A snake eyes on the ensuing morale check resulted in them going berserk. 

End of my turn 3
With his third turn Mike was getting desperate.  Things had gone to hell on the right and he felt the time had come for extreme measures.  He dropped concealment and fired on my adjacent stack without result.  I was very tempted to keep concealment but I had two squads and a leader for a 16+1 shot at his remaining force.  I took the shot and broke the leader.  Unfortunately the squad rolled snakes and generated a hero to replace him.  But then desperation drove Mike to the extreme.  His hero led the remaining squad into close combat against two squads and a leader.  If he was successful it might swing his fortunes.  He wasn't successful and promptly lost his last squad  on the right hand side of the board and his newly minted hero into the bargain.

It was pretty much over at this point.  Mike had taken appalling casualties while mine had been almost embarrassingly light.  Not even his vapourising of my berserk squad as they charged madly across open ground could alter that.  We played another turn in case a miracle happened but it didn't and Mike graciously conceded while I ungraciously gloated.  In retrospect Mike feels he set up his forward defenders a little too far forward and I tend to agree.  I was able to move up and beat them without the rest of his force being able to intervene then, largely unharmed I was able to move against the rest.  Mike noted that I didn't launch a banzai charge which surprised him.  I tried to make it look as though this was some cunning tactic on my part but the simple fact is I can never remember how the damn things work.  Much thanks to Mike for the game.  Our next outing will involve my favourite (Italians) and Mike's favourite (PTO) with LFT's Ciao China.

Captain Yabadabadu looked around with a sense of satisfaction.  It was all over bar the shouting and of course the massacring.  He saluted as the colonel approached.

"Well done captain.  We've liberated the Gurkhas with extreme prejudice."

"Extreme prejudice is what we're good at sir."

"Did any of the Burmese survive?"

"Actually, all of them."

Colonel Matsu blinked, "Really?  Have their astrologer report to my planning staff immediately."


Sunday, September 8, 2019

Here it Comes, There it Goes

Big news in cetacean circles.  A new species of whale has been discovered!  Unfortunately its been discovered off the coast of Japan which must be rather like discovering a new species of tiger outside a Chinese medicine shop.  Still at present researchers and professional whale pesterers of all stripes are currently enjoying that brief period of excitement between the whale's discovery and its almost inevitable extinction.

According to an expert at a Japanese natural history museum (and co-owner of the Happy Harpoon seafood restaurant) the new species is about six to seven metres long, dark in colour and goes well with lotus root and bamboo shoots.  The species was first noticed some time ago by local whalers but in an attempt to avoid the bitter demarcation disputes which have long characterised oceanic studies the whalers restricted themselves to just harpooning them and left the naming to the scientific community.

It is, of course, totally inaccurate to speak of a "new" species of whale.  This particular type of whale (Berardius Minimus if you're interested) has no doubt been swimming the oceans for as long as any other type.  It's just that it's taken this long for it to come to the attention of any human being whose immediate reaction wasn't to carve it up for sushi.  In fact the whales might have maintained their anonymity indefinitely if they had been somewhat better at navigation.  Despite the comments of local whalers the scientific community didn't really notice them until they tripped over a half dozen or so that had attempted to swim up a beach.

Suddenly the world was stunned to hear that there was a new species of whale, or at least there was until the only six specimens known to science died on a Japanese beach.  Meanwhile the whalers rolled their eyes, sharpened their harpoons and decided it probably wasn't worth mentioning the giant kraken they encountered the other week.

The appearance, however brief, of previously undiscovered whales has made the usual people giddy with excitement.  Various marine scientists have gone on the record to point out that it just goes to show how much there is still to learn about our oceans and how terribly thrilling it all is.  At least there is still a lot to learn about our oceans if you don't speak to fishermen.  I rather suspect that this omission is deliberate.  It must get a little tedious if every time you announce the discovery of a new species some grubby tramp in a pullover and heavy boots who probably didn't even go to university points out that he's been catching, frying and eating this new discovery for years.

For now though let us join with the scientists and revel in the fact that there are still things to discover and animals not yet known.  No doubt the bodies of the six whales will be examined from all angles to see if there's anything else that can be learnt about this new species.  Look out for the breathless announcement that they've discovered a new species of aquatic plastic bag that lives in the whale's stomache.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

What Happened to Just Exposing them on Hilltops?

My Tasmanian correspondent let slip, in the course of casual conversation the other day, that she plans to murder her children.  This comment was met with gasps of horror and outrage from both myself and my tech support.  I decried the tragic waste of young human life while my tech support decried the tragic waste of saleable commodities.

Somewhat snippily my correspondent pointed out that infanticide was a traditional part of Tasmanian culture and I was imposing colonialist-oppressor cultural values on a helpless society.  She may also have called me racist.  Since my correspondent comes from roughly the same pasty coloured stock as myself I found that last a little much.  However since my colleagues have no fewer than five equal opportunity complaints against me revolving around what I thought were quite harmless comments on race, gender, religious affiliation and cattle herding I decided not to take chances.

Apologising profusely I invited her to tell me more to alleviate my ignorance and broaden my understanding of ways other than my own.  Perhaps there were lessons I could learn.  After a pro forma accusation of cultural appropriation my correspondent complied.

At some point in the life of each Tasmanian child (generally when their parents finally lose patience) they are encouraged to engage in certain activities; playing in traffic, annoying strange dogs, firearm handling, pestering poisonous reptiles etc.  The intention is to winnow out those less suited for the rough and tumble of adult life although it is considered bad form to simply bludgeon your children to death with a seal club.  If the child should survive they will have learnt vital skills that will help them survive when, as adults, they try to kill their own children.

My correspondent has decided to fulfill her cultural imperative by taking her children bushwalking.  This seems almost disturbingly survivable but this is no ordinary bushwalk.  This is the Three Capes Bushwalk.  Four days and three nights out in the wilderness, living hand to mouth while trekking over rugged terrain from one cape to another.  There are in fact only two capes but anyone who has any familiarity with Tasmania's education system will be impressed that they got as close as they did.

My correspondent will be dragging both her recalcitrant offspring along on this thinly disguised death march.  They will huddle in the open, live on trail mix and take in the wonders of the great outdoors.  The mortality rate should be impressively high.

But it remains to be seen if my correspondent's children will even live to get to the starting point.  To prepare them for the horrors to come she recently purchased her children a wobble board.  Visions of Rolf Harris floated in my head but apparently this is some sort of thing you attempt to balance on to strengthen your ankles and lateral muscles prior to putting them to test in the great outdoors.  Unfortunately so far her children have shown a distressing tendency to fall off the thing into the waiting maws of the family dogs which have camped out around it looking for an easy meal.  This may actually be the best result for my correspondent.  I have met her children and I'm reasonably confident that if she takes them out into the wilderness they will be the ones returning not her.