Thursday, December 31, 2009

Clock's a-tickin' 2009

Most of us recognize this day as the end of an arbitrary chapter in the chronicle of humankind.  Planets spin in rote; somewhere the digits of some chronological counter fall.  December 31st is come; a year ended, another to begin.  The date falls in regimen, part of the New Age clockwork that is derived loosely from the old Pagan recognition of the winter solstice.  A token, perhaps, of how far removed we are from the natural rhythms of our world. 

In our modern world, we pay small respect to the magic of the shaman, the wisdom of the druid.  We insist that the world is run by gears and wheels.  "Reason is King!" we proclaim.

We may be stripped of that luxuriant ignorance ere long.  Nonetheless, let's go with it for now.

This year saw no ebb in the cruel tides of war.  Nor has there been any indication of a new consciousness emerging from the riot of humanity.  I've mostly given up looking for such.  I attribute it to my own terrible awakening on November 2nd, 2004.  I lost much of my faith in people on that day.  The wounds I suffered back then are still raw, five years later.  (But, at the least, the monkey is gone... merci mon Dieu... the monkey is gone.)

To me, and to mine, the year 2009 has been gentle.  No dire health problems; no destitution; general harmony amongst the Tribe of Ross.  We've been lucky.  And I know it.  And please believe, I've got a hand out to those less fortunate souls whom I can help.  No friend of mine should imagine that I won't do what I can for him.

So, here we go.  Another spin around the solar whirligig.  I'm standing ready. 

Let's see what the new year brings.

Best to all. 

Torin, Seth, and Gino

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year's reading list

Blah, blah, blah...
More narcissistic navel-gazing, I'm afraid.  Days of short sunlight will do that to me.

Ever am I plagued with fears of excessive complacence.  It's true that I love my life, every bit of it, and I never tire of reminding myself  (and everyone else) of that truth.  But, the danger of succumbing to comfort and contentment must be guarded against.

Hey, people, the springtime may be a memory, but there is still some sap in the tree.  (Don't take that metaphor anywhere you think you shouldn't.)  I dislike the idea that I have let life soften me.  I deny it.

Rather, I believe I have come to a better understanding of which battles are worth fighting and which are pointless and futile.  Of the former, there is that a man should not become a bigot; or, if he finds that he has become one, that he not remain so.  Of the latter, there is the attempt to change the mind of a bigot; experience teaches that only himself can do it.

I have found two endeavors that are perfect antidotes to encroaching bigotry:  travel and reading.  Both will open windows in the psyche and cleanse away bias with the light afforded by dilated perspective.

Times being what they are, it will be a while before I can manage any overseas travel.  So, today I took a walk down to Powell's Books on Hawthorne and picked up three titles:
  • In Evil Hour - Gabriel García Márquez

  • Leaves of Grass - Walt Whitman

  • Poems and Songs - Robert Burns
The Burns compilation is annotated with modern English interpretations of the Scottish dialect that I find delightful.  I haven't read much poetry, and since I occasionally dabble on this blog, I feel I ought to have a look at what the masters have done.  And Don Márquez always imparts gifts of wisdom and compassion.

A reading list is a wonderful thing to have during winter.  If you're looking for something to read, I'm always happy to suggest titles.  I suppose it is no secret by now that I'm always willing to offer an opinion!


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

ASL: Fight for the Barrikady (Pt. II)

Note to readers: This post won't make a lick of sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the Advanced Squad Leader game system.

Fellow Berserk Commissar Sonny Eberts (Santino, the Bull) and I are enmeshed in a savage struggle for the Stalingrad Barrikady, CGIII.  Sonny and I will each maintain a blog correspondence as the game progresses with the agreement that neither will read the other's blog until given express permission to do so.  Readers are encouraged to comment!  Got a problem with where I placed my AT gun?  Speak your piece!  Just be sure not to inadvertently reveal any information about Sonny's plan to me or vice-versa.

You can read my entry for the previous game day here.

Aftermath of Day 1:  Big acorns, small oaks

The biggest roll of the day for Campaign Game Day 1 was the "1" I rolled at the end of turn 5, thereby ending the game just as Sonny's Germans were poised to rush uncontested into building K10 and the L10 factory. The perimeter at the end of the day looked like this...

Perimeter at the end of Day 1

Sonny purchased two rifle companies and a Stuka group for Day 1.  With the benefit of hindsight, I think this may have been a mistake.  Sonny was attacking across a very narrow front with four companies!  His force was massive and unwieldy.  The attack was ponderous.  Sheer weight of numbers carried him up into building F5 and beyond, but he did not get into any of the factories, and I was still contesting building M6 when the day ended.

On my side of the table, my Molotov capability led to building B12 burning down, which was good.  But beyond that, it did nothing.  Methinks the 2 CPP I spent on it could have been better used for Fortification points or artillery.

The casualty ratio for the day kept pace with German needs, but it was hardly a shellacking.  The Russians suffered 25 CVP, while the Germans suffered 14 CVP.  Considering the size of Sonny's force, he didn't put a very big hurt on me. 

I came away from the day with my force largely intact.  My biggest losses of the day were a dug-in KV tank (lost to a Stuka), and one of my AT guns (malfunctioned, then disabled).  Although I lost the scenario within the limited confines of the daily victory conditions, I counted the day as meeting my overall strategic goals:  the Germans had not reached the river, and I kept all my leaders and heavy support weapons.

And now comes the dawn...

My retained forces for Day 2 are as follows:
  • 426 x 13
  • 527 x 5
  • 628
  • 447 x 18
  • 228 x 2
  • 10-2, 8-1 x 2, 10-0, 8-0
  • KVII M42, dug-in, hex U9
  • 45LL ATG
  • ATR x 3, MMG x 3, HMG x 2, LMG x 2, Lt. Mtr. x 3
Not bad.  One and a half rifle companies, a militia company, and a depleted sub-machine gun company.  Decent leadership.  And my fortifications guarding the river are still intact. 

Sonny sees this...

I am allotted 17 CPP for Day 2.  My purchases are as follows:
  • SMG Guards Coy (reserve) 6 CPP
    628 x 9
    9-0, 8-1
  • Militia Coy (depleted)  4 CPP
    426 x 9
    MMG, ATR, Lt. Mtr.
  • 120 Fort Points 3 CPP
    Trench x 3
    AP mine factors x 18
    Wire x 2
    2 squads HIP
    Dummy counters x 9
  • T60 M42 Pltn 3 CPP
    T60 M42 x 3
  • 80mm Mtr OBA module 1 CPP
My long term strategy is to build a line of defense that runs the entire length of the board, running roughly along the V thru X hex rows.  So, I will add to my fortifications in the north, extending them southward.  Meanwhile, my militia will fight and die in the factories, buying time for the troops behind them to dig their trenches.
I'm buying the elite SMG company and the armor platoon for one reason:  to guard my ELR.  I saw what happened to Dave Hauth in our recent game and I'm going to try to avoid a similar fate.  With these two purchases, I add a -3 modifier to my ELR roll at the end of the day.

Day 2 setup

It will be interesting to see how the T60s fare on this battlefield.  Ideally, I would purchase them as dug-in tanks, but this time, since I can't easily predict where the German will attack, I'm opting to keep them mobile.  There are a couple reasons that lend to the attractiveness of this option:  1) weather is overcast, so I have no fear of Stukas; 2) Sonny's platoon of MkIIIs was recalled at the end of day 1, so there will be no German armor set up on board. 

The 80mm Mortar OBA will be directed by the 6+1 in the second level of O18 where he can see over the "low" O10 factory.  From this vantage, he can drop shells to either side of the O6 factory, and even all the way out to the jump off point of any German attack toward the river, around hex W3.

I've placed trenches in X8 and Y8 to link up the Chemist's shop with the defenses to the north.  This sector is manned by my reinforced rifle company.

My two militia companies have affixed their bayonets and are hunkered down in the factories awaiting Jerry.  A political officer is on hand to provide patriotic instruction and the 10-2 has a kill stack backing them up. 

The elite SMG company is in reserve to the south in the L14 and F16 factories.  The 1st line SMG company guards against any southward advance along the railway.  My 45L ATG backs them up further south.  And the reinforcing T-60s may be coming this way in response to a serious German effort.

So far, so good.  Sonny is going to have to hit me harder than he hit me yesterday, or I'm going to quickly become too strong for him.  But I expect he knows this...

To be continued...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Willamette Valley Christmas 2009

Fog-shrouded trees in the southern Willamette Valley
This holiday season has been one of those that serve to remind how blessed and lucky I am.  (But then again, they all are.)  On Christmas Day, Maty and I had our own little holiday celebration (despite the fact that neither of us are Christian).  We exchanged gifts, took a jaunt out to the theater to see Sherlock Holmes, and had supper at home.  Just the two of us. 

Roasted lamb, garlic mashed (sweet) potatoes, gravy, french bread, salad.  Blueberry tart (from France) for dessert.
Next day, we set off for Eugene, Oregon, about 120 miles to the south, to visit sister Mia and brother Eric and their respective families.  We stopped in Tigard along the way to deliver gifts to our dear friends the King family.

The King family sans Kadija (Philip is hiding)

Nephew Gino is growing up fast. He's about average height for his age, but his weight is in the 90th percentile. He's a stocky kid destined, no doubt, for the wrestling mat.  Or perhaps he'll be fighting for position down low in the paint, intimidating would-be rebounders.

Nephew Gino and Mama
Then, yesterday, it was back up to Portland, there to meet sister Paige and family.  The drive along the interstate was a patchwork quilt of fog and sun breaks.

Cold and clear December
Paige, Tim, and Torin arrived in the mid-afternoon. Mi sobrino Torin ha estado estudiando en una escuela de inmersión del español.  Y él habla muy bien.  Eric and Kristi drove up as well, Calee made the cross-town trip and we all went for Thai food at Authentic Thai on Division Street.

Front row:  Torin and Maty
Back row:  Tim, Calee, Paige, moi, Kristi and Eric
Boy, I'll tell ya:  Any man who is not a fool knows enough to say thanks when he hits a stretch of road like this.  And I don't want to think I'm a fool.  So I'll say it:  Thank you, Great Whatever.  Thank you.

See why I'm smiling?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Movie review: Sherlock Holmes

Let me start with the disclaimer that I have never read any of the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and therefore have no means of comparing this year's movie, directed by Guy Ritchie to the original work.  I mentioned to a friend and coworker who has, in fact, read all the stories, that I planned to see the movie on Christmas Day, and he expressed his concerns about the bastardization of characters that he cherished in his youth.  Well, I can relate to that, certainly.  (Allow me to shake my fist at Peter Jackson for his disfigurement of Tolkien.)

Very well.  On with it.

Firstly, the film is amply served by its two charismatic and versatile front-men, Robert Downey, Junior, and Jude Law, both of whom deliver appealing (perhaps even delightful) performances as Holmes and Doctor Watson.  They seem to have established the chemistry between them that is required to pull it off.  The supporting cast delivers as well.  (And I just love Robert Downey.  His well-publicized real-life weaknesses make him a brother.)

The sets, depicting London in the late 19th century, are captivating.  Viewers are presented with a chaotic, fog-shrouded city, filled with opulence and squalor in equal measure.

The story itself centers around Holmes investigations into a diabolical cult that is poised to seize control of the British Empire.  Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) is the villain, seemingly endowed with the powers of the black arts, who somehow cheats the hangman's noose and proceeds to terrorize the city.  Undaunted (of course) by the sinister nature of Blackwood's powers, Holmes and the reluctant Watson delve into the matter to discover its true nature and deliver London from disaster in the nick of time.

Throughout the viewing, it became obvious that this film, while it does relate a full story, is really just the opening episode of a planned new series of films a las Dark Knight or Spiderman.  There will be more Sherlock Holmes movies if this one succeeds.  Holmes' femme fatale, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), confirms this with her warning to Holmes that Lord Blackwood is just a puppet inadvertently serving a greater evil:  the enigmatic and never-seen Doctor Moriarty.

Well, apparently, the film's producers have a high degree of confidence that the film will meet with enough success to warrant further episodes.  And I can't disagree.

Sherlock Holmes is a diversion from Ritchie's earlier, edgier work, which includes Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, both of which I greatly enjoyed.  But judging the flick on its own merits, I'd say Ritchie has succeeded.  Sherlock Holmes is a good, solid film.  It delivers a good amount of entertainment and the characters are portrayed in sufficient depth to make me want to know more about them.  So, I'll look forward to the next installment.  Maybe next Christmas?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday best to all '09!

Winter is here!

Throwin' out a "Peace!" to everybody this solstice.  Peace is a good thing to be throwin' in anyone's direction.  But "Merry Christmas!" too, if that's your gig. 

The weather is cold and clear and Maty and I are battened down and holding our own here in Portland.  Just did a little last-minute holiday shopping and, believe it or not, I found the endeavor to be entirely tolerable.  In fact, I might even say I had a good time bathing in the frantic eddies of human bustle.

Maty, doing what she does so well

Humankind is heading into some rough waters.  It's not like we haven't seen it coming.  And I doubt we've hit the bottom yet.  Nonetheless, I'm upbeat.  Now that people are realizing how bad things might become, I believe we'll all start pulling together.  I've heard tell of times when people worked together for the Common Good and had it come out alright.  And, if it turns out that we've had our collective epiphany too late?  Well, at the very least, our decline will be more tolerable if we're kind to each other, if we forgive each other.

Present this photo as evidence in any future canonization considerations

Who knows?  We might even learn something from it all.

Every life is a poem.  No matter what happens, each of us has witnessed the miracle of Creation.

Our very best and most sincere wishes to each and all. May you have peace and contentment!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

ASL: Fight for the Barrikady (Pt. I)

Note to readers: This post won't make a lick of sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the Advanced Squad Leader game system.

Despair not, ASL players!  Another vicarious ASL opportunity awaits!  Fellow Berserk Commissar Sonny Eberts (also known as Santino, the Bull) and I are about to engage in a playing of RB CGIII, the Barrikady.  Sonny and I have played several Red Barricades campaign games as teammates.  This is the only time I can remember having him as a Red Barricades opponent, though.  I have the part of the heroic Red Army facing down the fascist aggressors. 

As with my previous game both players will maintain a blog correspondence as the game progresses with the agreement that neither will read the other's blog until given express permission to do so.  Readers are encouraged to comment!  Got a problem with where I placed my AT gun?  Speak your piece!  Just be sure not to inadvertently reveal any information about Sonny's plan to me or vice-versa.

Here come the Jerries

A daunting task is laid before me.  Here come the Jerries, coiled up tight like a cobra before the strike.  I've been here before.  My heroes of the Soviet Union are going to get pummeled severely this first day.  With that presumption, I have two goals for the day:
  1. Fight like hell to keep the Germans off the river.
  2. Preserve as much of my force as possible.  Most especially my support weapons and my leaders.

Sonny sees this...

My at start forces are as follows:
  • Rifle Coy
    447 x 12
    10-0 Commissar
    HMG, MMG, LMG, ATR, Lt. Mtr.
  • Rifle Coy
    447 x 12
    10-2, 8-1
    HMG, MMG, LMG, ATR, Lt. Mtr.
  • SMG Coy
    527 x 9
  • 45LL ATG x 2
    228 x 2
  • Fort. Bldg. x 5
  • Fort Pts. x 50
A nice snake-eyes for my second rifle company's leadership roll! 

I allotted my 8CPP for the day as follows:
  • Militia Coy (reserve) = 3 CPP
    426 x 12
    MMG, LMG, ATR, Lt. Mtr.
  • KV Pltn (dug-in) = 2 CPP
  • KV-1 M42 x 2
  • 40 Fort points = 1 CPP
  • MOL capability = 2 CPP
I opted to buy the dug-in KV platoon to strengthen my right flank. However, being leary of heavy artillery and mortar smoke, I've spent fortification points to make them HIP and I've placed them to the south, on the perimeter of the debris field.

I also opted for MOL capability. I'll use MOL with discretion during play. If my infantry get a decent shot at any of his tanks, they'll break out the petrol bombs. Also, when the Germans get close, we'll toss firebombs at them in burnable terrain.  I don't have enough leaders to attempt kindling, so maybe I'll get lucky when I start chuckin' the hot potatoes.

Day 1 setup 

I've deployed the weaker of my two rifle companies on the right flank, with fortified buildings and a trench. The lone leader, a 10-0 commissar, will hang out behind the lines, rallying as necessary, but avoiding exposure to the enemy insofar as is possible.  The big machine guns for this company set up all the way back in the Chemist's Shop in the hope that I can keep them out of German hands.  I may bring them up to the first level, once I see where the Germans are coming.  The two dug-in KVs are also on hand to fire into the German flank if Jerry pushes hard for the riverbank.

My second rifle company, with the 10-2 leader, get the honor of defending the O6 factory.  The units in the M6 building are there for the duration.  If smoked in, they hold their positions and hope to ambush advancing Germans.  But they won't be falling back.  Stand and die, comrades!  The 8-1 and MMG however, are not so constrained.  If things get too hot, this group will fall back to the south.  The 10-2 and HMG are positioned in the back mostly for their own protection.  This leader will stay in the back and take long range shots, but under no circumstances will he seek to engage at close range.

The SMG company gets the job of protecting the railroad line (and the hidden ATGs).  This entire company has orders to retreat slowly to the south.  But I doubt I'll see many of them in the chow line this evening.  I've got a platoon defending the B12 building, but I don't imagine this will prove to be much more than a speed bump to any determined German advance.  The two ATGs are positioned to drill German armor that might get too frisky.  But I am nervous about my ATG placement.  They are in precariously forward positions.  In previous games, Sonny has favored this approach as the Germans.  I could lose them both. 

My reserve militia company is set up to protect the two ATG as much as possible.

Sonny is a tenacious player (that's why we call him "The Bull").  So, I'm going to have my hands full.  The most important thing is to maintain my own personal morale.  The Germans have a Big, Big Punchtm and they're going to land one squarely on my jaw.  Nothing for it but to absorb and keep going.

To be continued...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Robert Burns said it best

Address to the Unco Guid
Robert Burns

My son, these maxims make a rule,
An' lump them ay thegither:
The Rigid Righteous is a fool,
The Rigid Wise anither;
The cleanest corn that e’er was dight
May hae some pyles o’ caff in;
So ne’er a fellow-creature slight
For random fits o’ daffin

SOLOMON (Eccles.vii. 16)

O ye, wha are sae guid yoursel,
Sae pious and sae holy,
Ye’ve nought to do but mark and tell
Your neebours’ fauts and folly ;
Whase life is like a weel-gaun mill,
Supplied wi’ store o’ water ;
The heapet happer’s ebbing still,
An’ still the clap plays clatter !


Hear me, ye venerable core,
As counsel for poor mortals
That frequent pass douce Wisdom’s door
For glaikit Folly’s portals :
I for their thoughtless, careless sakes
Would here propone defences -
Their donsie tricks, their black mistakes,
Their failings and mischances.


Ye see your state wi’ theirs compared,
And shudder at the niffer ;
But cast a moment’s fair regard,
What makes the mighty differ ?
Discount what scant occasion gave ;
That purity ye pride in ;
And (what’s aft mair than a’ the lave)
Your better art o’ hidin.


Think, when your castigated pulse
Gies now and then a wallop,
What ragings must his veins convulse,
That still eternal gallop !
Wi’ wind and tide fair i’ your tail,
Right on ye scud your sea-way ;
But in the teeth o’ baith to sail,
It makes an unco lee-way.


See Social-life and Glee sit down
All joyous and unthinking,
Till, quite transmugrify’d, they’re grown
Debauchery and Drinking :
O, would they stay to calculate,
Th’ eternal consequences,
Or -your more dreaded hell to state -
Damnation of expenses !


Ye high, exalted, virtuous dames,
Tied up in godly laces,
Before ye tie poor Frailty names,
Suppose a change o’ cases :
A dear-lov’d lad, convenience snug,
A treach’rous inclination-
But, let me whisper i’ your lug,
Ye’re ailblins nae temptation.


Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman ;
Tho’ they may gang a kennin wrang,
To step aside is human :
One point must still be greatly dark,
The moving why they do it ;
And just as lamely can ye mark
How far perhaps they rue it.


Who made the heart, ’tis He alone
Decidedly can try us :
He knows each chord, its various tone,
Each spring, its various bias :
Then at the balance let’s be mute,
We never can adjust it ;
What’s done we partly may compute,
But know not what’s resisted.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Health care reform: It all comes down to reconciliation

There is a scene in "The Godfather" (arguably Francis Ford Coppola's masterwork) wherein Don Vito Corleone reveals what he has learned from a meeting of the Five Families.  Up to that point, the Corleone family had thought the rival Tattaglia family was behind the gangster aggression that had killed Vito's eldest son, Santino.  But at the meeting, Don Corleone learned the truth.  On the ride home, he tells his consigliere, Tom Hagan:  "Tattaglia is a pimp.  He could never have out-fought Santino.  I should have known that it was Barzini all along."

As the health care debate in the US Senate lurches toward its ugly conclusion, the progressives among us are left feeling much as Don Corleone must have felt during that car ride.  All this time we had thought the Republicans were the prime enemies of real health care reform.  But it turns out that, like Bruno Tattaglia, Senate Republicans are just pimps.  (I'm being charitable).  The real enemies have been  Stinky Joe Lieberman (CT) and Ben Nelson (NE) all along.

Both of these "esteemed" senators have used the precarious balance of power in the Senate to pursue their own agendas, have leveraged their positions to the utmost.  Well, after all, this is the US Senate, and senators will do that.  But Lieberman, in particular, has been crass and overt about it:  changing his position on the so-called Medicare expansion, which he supported as recently as September, in order to extract the most benefit he can from the process.

The news came down last weekend that Harry Reid now believes he has the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture on the debate and pass a health care reform bill.  But the bill that he will pass does not include a public option, nor does it include an expansion of Medicare, the two most attractive provisions of reform (from a progressive point of view).  Some progressives, including former Vermont governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean, have gone so far as to call for liberal senators to kill the bill.  (Dean has since backed off on that.) 

I believe that, without a public option, or some kind of expansion of a publicly-run health care system, any so-called health care reform will be nothing more than another sop to health insurance providers.  And, indeed, stocks for health insurance companies hit a 52 week high last Friday on the news that an agreement may have been reached that did not include a public option nor an expansion of Medicare.  The bill that is proposed would mandate that individuals buy health insurance from private companies.  Get it?  We would all be required to pay money to health insurance companies so that they can continue to deny our health care claims.  Salad days ahead for insurance company executives!

The Obama administration has been pathetic and detrimental to the progressive cause.  I grant that President Obama sees himself as a facilitator and a shepherd, but after all, a well-placed word or two would be enormously beneficial.   I ask again, "What's it gonna be, Barack?"

But don't despair yet, progressives.  Remember that the bill passed by the US House of Representatives includes a strong public option.  (Thank you, Nancy Pelosi.)  After the Senate passes its monstrosity, the two bills will go to conference and undergo reconciliation.

I don't understand all the parliamentary procedures involved, but I believe that the reconciliation process provides alternatives that would allow for the bill to be presented to the two legislative bodies such that it can be passed by simple majority, rather than require that it overcome a Republican filibuster.  So, if my understanding is correct, we could still come out of this with either a real public option, or with an expansion of Medicare.

This entire process has been educational, certainly.  We've all heard pundits liken the legislative process to sausage-making:  the result might be good, but the procedure is ugly.  Well, this nightmare debate has proven the truth of that analogy.  But I'm still holding my breath, hoping that real reform that diminishes the power of the insurance companies and the corporate plutocrats will emerge.

If that happens, we're on our way.  If not, it is hard to imagine that we can ever again wrest power from them through political means.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Let's not do that

It's all gonna work out.

I know things look bleak.  World seems to be going to hell.  Signs of it are everywhere.

Here we are, sitting in this leaky old tub, bailing water.  And the swells are rising up high enough to where we lose sight of the shore now and again.  But keep the faith.  Things will be alright. 

Faces everywhere have a grim look to them.  Everyone seems to be waiting for the worst to hit.  After a while, people start to change.  They become stingy.  Stingy with their charity, with their words and feelings, even with their smiles.  They feel they must cling to what they have.  They clutch, imaging that by withholding today, it will somehow benefit them in the hard times of tomorrow.  They start to feel afraid to live.  They grow calluses against their natural compassion.

Let's not do that.  Instead, let's make our little stand right here and never lose our smiles.  Never lose our faith.  Let's make sure we keep track of our people so we do what we can for them when they need it.  Even if they don't ask.  Let's make sure we put a can of tuna in the food donation bin whenever we go to Safeway.  

People are good, just like you've always said.  People are good!

People are good and God is great.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Everybody's snarlin'

"Somebody at work gets upset, says something snippy to somebody else.  Next thing you know, everybody's snarlin' and snappin' at each other."


"I guess it's because they're all feelin' the pinch.  Holidays, trouble at work, personal stuff.  There's a lotta fear out there."

"Hasn't there always been?"

"Not back in the '90s.  Not even back in Junior's day.  You know, when people are worried about their jobs, they start acting crazy.  Their 'bad sides' come out.  Nobody wants to be friends anymore.  Nobody trusts anybody anymore"

"But it isn't so bad, is it?  Think about Vienna in 1679.  Or Warsaw in 1944.  You've got it easy."

"Well, I can't deny that.  And when you put it in that light...  But, you know, the guy who can't find work, with a wife and two kids, things are pretty rough.  And people aren't getting along at all.  Lotta terrible vibes going back and forth.  Who knows where it might lead?"

"Warsaw 1944?"

"Knock on wood!  Knock on wood!"

"So, what will you do?"

"What can I do?  No.  Really.  What can I do?"

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hood the Heartless

Hood the Heartless kills again
Today, inclement weather has forced rescuers to suspend their search for two missing climbers on Mount Hood.  Missing since Friday, December 11th, are Katie Nolan and Anthony Vietti, two members of a trio who attempted to scale the mountain. The body of the third member, Luke Gullberg, was found Friday.  Gullberg had died of exposure.

Rescuers speculate that there was an accident involving Nolan on Friday, and that Gullberg set off to get help when he fell to the foot of the Reid Glacier.  There were signs that Gullberg had survived the fall, but succumbed to the cold.

Hopes for the two missing climbers are swiftly waning as snow continues to blanket the mountain.  Read the full story here.

Gullberg, Vietti, and Nolan
In the decade previous to this incident, 22 people have died on that mountain, including my two dear friends, Carey and Tena Cardon.  I imagine that having the mountain nearby is like living in the Alaskan bush in proximity to a grizzly bear.  If you leave the bear alone, you'll be alright.  But, human beings being what we are, we cannot be confined by such prudence. 

Carey Cardon: 1968 - 1999
My heart breaks for the families of the climbers, and I ardently hope that Nolan and Vietti will be found alive.  But one must wonder at the wisdom of attempting to scale the mountain in mid-December when weather forecasts called for cold and precipitation.
Was this ill-fated climb a symptom of youthful disbelief in mortality?  Or, tangentially returning to the grizzly bear analogy, was there an element of Timothy Treadwell self-destruction involved?

I don't imagine that anyone can answer those questions with any degree of certainty.  All we can really do is recognize, yet again, that Old Man Hood, Hood the Heartless, is powerful and dangerous, and that, like the bear in the bush, he occasionally kills.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ASL: Back to the Barricades (Pt. VI)

Note to readers: This post won't make a lick of sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the Advanced Squad Leader game system. 

Interested ASL players take note!  Dave Hauth, and I are are engaged in another big battle over the Barricades.  We have come to mutual agreement to each maintain a "blog correspondence" wherein we individually publish our thoughts on our game with the agreement that neither will read his competitor's posts until our campaign game is complete. So, I present to those interested ASL players out there my half of said correspondence.

Aftermath of Day 3: Russian concession

And thus, it ends.  In spite of having his best day of the campaign to date, Dave concedes as the Russian player after Day 3.  Here is the final perimeter:

Ring out, balalaikas!  Play your sad dirges! Weep for the Motherland's lost sons.

It came about thusly:  my plan, again, was to drive for the Power Station in the west, to seize and hold building GG21 and to advance cautiously southward within the factories.

In the east, I quickly seized building GG21 with a platoon of battle-hardened rifle squads and two supporting StugIIIBs.  But, in so doing, I discovered that Dave had purchased a platoon of dug-in T-34 tanks, which dispatched my StugIIIBs.  I clung to the building, by the merest of margins, mostly by skulking away from the T-34s.  (I question Dave's placement of the T-34s.  Although they did succeed in anchoring his right flank, they were out of position for the final fight which would necessarily occur in the factory complexes to the west.)

Ironically, by the end of the day, the Commissar's House ended up within my perimeter even though I had had no plans to capture it.  Dave kindled it to deny me the upper level vantages.  As I stated in a previous post, having that building in my perimeter, even though it was rubble, left me in a strong position for future attacks.

In the center, I proceeded as planned, advancing southward through the O6 factory with a rifle company.  Nasty fighting occurred in the northern end of the O10 factory as I made contact with the Russian militia.  Casualties in that area came out about even, which, of course, favors the Russian.

In the west, my much anticipated southward thrust to capture the Power Station failed utterly.  I annihilated the Russians in the F16 factory as expected, but then things fell apart.

Dave had set up a platoon of infantry in the C23 building which managed to destroy two of my PzIIIHs in short order.  And he had a kill stack in the Power Station itself which neutralized my kill stack before I could get any momentum.  But the real surprise came when a full company of Russian militia conducted a human wave attack westward out of the J16 factory into the flank of my attacking Sturm company.  Their insolence was punished severely, but they succeeded in disrupting my attack.  I was forced to turn south down the E through G hex rows to try to approach the Power Station from the flank.  It was a bloody business that cost me the better part of my Sturm company and left me short of my goal by the end of the day.

When we made the final tally, the Germans had lost 63 CVP, while the Russians had lost 57 CVP.  By any measure, that is a tactical Russian victory.  Such a result should have any German commander chewing his nails and agonizing over how to reverse the trend.

But the death knell for Dave came when his ELR dropped again, from 2 to 1.  My German ELR remained at 4.  Dave thought it over for a day, and then emailed me his concession.

Final analysis

This campaign game reinforced my opinion that the Russian player simply must keep the Germans off the river.  I know Dave will share my views on the matter.  We've discussed it many times.  If the Jerrys dip their helmets in the icy Volga, Uncle Joe is gonna have a bad winter.

Using that reasoning, the heavy artillery barrage on Day 1 was nearly decisive in itself.  I was in the Chemist's Shop at the end of that day.  And that spells disaster for the Russian.

Also, I am now convinced that the best way to play the Germans is to stick to buying one company per day, mostly alternating between Rifle and Sturm.  Remaining CPP expenditure is to support the company:  tanks, heavy weapons, artillery.  Germans will always be racing to keep up numerically with the multiplying Red Hordes, but they will always be better equipped and supported.

Another big lesson, this time from the Russian perspective:  To the extent possible, guard that ELR!  Does this mean the Russian should buy tanks early in the campaign, to provide that negative modifier to the Battlefield Integrity roll?  Elite infantry instead of militia?  I honestly don't know.  In retrospect, though, I think Dave's decision, on Day 2, to buy 3 companies of infantry was a mistake.  I think the Russian needs to stay on a 2 company per day pace, and use any remaining CPP to purchase support (artillery, fortifications, tanks, etcetera).

A good game, as always.  I immensely enjoyed all the thought and planning that went into the game.  In my humble opinion, Dave was a little bit quick to concede.  I think, had I been in his situation, I might have given it at least another day, just to see what happens.  But, c'est la guerre.

I don't get to try my Grand Killing Strike, which is a bit of a bummer.  But I sure have enjoyed this campaign game.  I hope you have enjoyed following along with us.  Who knows?  We might try it again some day.

Thanks for reading, ASL friends!  Hopefully, I'll see some of you at Enfilade 2010.

Read Part I here.
Read Part II here.
Read Part III here.
Read Part IV here.
Read Part V here.

Read Dave's blog here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Movie review: Oh My God

When Pearline Pinsonant's human and I went to see The Road, recently, one of the trailers that appeared in the interminable procession of movie previews beforehand was of a documentary, made by one Peter Rodger, entitled Oh My God.  According to the trailer, the film was an exploration of the meaning of God as understood by people from all walks of life and from all over the world.  "Oh my God!" I whispered to my friend (oblivious to the coincidence of my outburst).  "That flick is a 'must see'!"  As I continue my lifelong search, any serious examination of the nature and meaning of God is going to catch my attention, and this film appeared to be just that.

I went to the theater on Saturday, eager and hopeful.  But, sadly, after viewing Mr. Rodger's desultory effort, I came away underwhelmed and disappointed.  The film falls short.  Actually, it doesn't just fall short:  it fails.

Rodger sets out first in one direction, then in another, as he conducts interviews with various people from around the world (Buddhist holymen, Muslim radicals, Christian Bible-thumpers, Orthodox Jews, Hindus, and any number of celebrities) on the assumption that they will impart some wisdom about God.  Well, I'm sorry.  I love Ringo Starr as much as any other Beatles fan, but how are Ringo's (or Seal's or Bob Geldof's) theistic musings any more worthy of examination than those of anyone else?

Rodger touches on many worthy topics, including humanitarianism, militant religious fervor, and the Palestinian issue, but fails to give any of them sufficient examination.  His skipping and skimming is confusing for any viewer that makes the mistake of trying to discern a larger moral from the work.  Nothing to see here, folks.  In fact, some of the observations are downright laughable.  ("Now I'm in Kenya, but if I walk over here I'm in Tanzania.  See how mankind imposes definitions on God's creation?"  Come on!  Any gaggle of stoned teenagers could do better than that!)

It is not that the film doesn't have visual appeal.  Rodger has a talent for capturing panoramic scenes:  sweeping shots of Himalayan plateaus, African savannas, Australian bush.  There are many aesthetically pleasing montages, troves of dazzling landscapes and fascinating people.  Throughout the film Rodger frames his shots with loving attention to light and shadow and color, even in the interviews.  I found Rodger's use of the soundtrack (written by Alexander Van Bubenheim) to be a bit heavy-handed, however.  It's standard New World beat stuff that Rodger throws over the top of his scenic montages in an apparent attempt to obscure his lack of substance.   

At the viewing I attended, there were no more than a dozen people in the seats.  Well, I'm afraid this film doesn't warrant much more than that.  In fact, one could glean everything of value from it by waiting for the DVD and then watching it with the sound muted.

Lastly, I'd like to offer Mr. Rodger a piece of wisdom from the Bible that I hope might help to guide him in his future cinematic endeavors:
Seek not out the things that are too hard for thee, neither search the things that are above thy strength. --Ecclesiasticus 3:21

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The way I feel about charity

The well of human need is bottomless.  At least, it is to mere mortals.  That much I accept.  Christ said (among other things):  "For the poor always ye have with you;" and He won't get any argument from me.

But every holiday season (admittedly, some more than others) I am visited by an uneasiness, a minor plague of self-doubts, at the thought of the underfed millions around the world that are every bit as human as I am.  Every one of them has joys and fears; each holds a desperate hope and a secret triumph.  That is true for the idle young heir to an oil fortune in Dallas, as well as for the young, HIV-positive Zulu mother in the slums of Johannesburg.

And here am I:  loud-mouthed schmo up in the upper left hand corner of civilization, making smart-ass remarks on the internet.  Questions form:  Have I given enough?  How much must I expect from myself?  How egregious is my hypocrisy?  (Like it or not, folks, we all operate from positions that we can't defend.  It's just a matter of degree.  If you're honest with yourself, you will admit it.)

After many years of this discomfort of the psyche, I've more or less fallen into a consistent reaction which works adequately for me.  Sum it up to this:  Generosity.  Of course I participate in the food drive at work for the needy local families; and I dash off a check to this or that charity over the course of the year.  But I think the best way to alleviate some of the suffering in this world, the solution that will come closest to diminishing that bottomless well, is to be generous in a more profound manner.

I try to be generous with my smile and my warm wishes and my expressions of admiration; with my appreciation of beauty; with my own thoughts and feelings.  (Alas for poor Maty!)  It all goes back to my deeply held belief in the justice and the infallibility of karma.  If I can help to spread those positive vibes, if I can relay them outward, I believe in the long run, there will be less suffering, less need.

Crackpot theory?  Probably.  But it works for me, for now.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hope it ain't so

Old Man Fenton squinted up at the Preacher from the corner of his one good eye.  His left eye was cloudy and blue and he couldn't make anything out with it, but his right eye was marble black and sharp as a hawk's.  He craned his head forward from hunched shoulders.  Although a few pale brown strands were combed back across his otherwise bald crown, most of  his hair (which wasn't much, anyway) clung to his temples and around his ears. He leaned across the barren table toward the Preacher, his face cocked to one side.

The Preacher, beaming with the bright eyed expectation of a miracle, waited for the questions to come.  He had been working toward this moment for a long time.

Old Man Fenton spent a good long time squinting, first at the Preacher, then at the barren tabletop between them.  Then he spoke.  "So, you're telling me that Jesus come down from Heaven 'cause He loved us and He wanted to save us?"

"Yes, that's right," said the Preacher.  He was exhausted, mentally and physically.  But he was also exhilarated, poised to win a victory for the Lord.

"And they still done Him like they did?" Old Man Fenton inquired.  "Knifed Him and lynched Him like that?"

"Yes, that's the way of it," said the Preacher.  All glory is for Thee, Lord.  All glory for Thee.

"Hmm..." Old Man Fenton mused.  His brow was drawn together, a furrowed row over his eyes.  He seemed deep in thought.

After a long moment, he shook his head with a sadness that puzzled the Preacher.  "Well," said the old man, finally, "I suppose about all we can do... is hope it ain't so."

Thanks to Charles Frazier for the inspiration.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holiday reflections

 I'm happy for these kids

The other day, at the lunch hour, my friend, James Minor, and I walked from our office building across the company campus to the commons building for a bowl of soup and a slice of pizza.  A group of kids from a local middle school were singing Christmas caroles and dancing for the entertainment of my coworkers.

It was a heart-warming, poignant display, which I enjoyed very much.  The kids were enthusiastic, seemed pleased with themselves, and appeared to enjoy the approving attention directed at them from the spectators. 

And, angst-ridden liberal that I am, I came away from it saddened.  Those singing, dancing, smiling kids will likely never know hunger nor find themselves and their families trapped in a war zone, fearing for their lives.  At least, I pray that they will not.

Well, dear reader, you undoubtedly know where I'm going with this...

Can we do something?

Since I became an adult, I've always found that children's books invoke this same sadness in me.  So often, children's books are written to reassure, to calm fears.  But, while I don't advocate that we frighten children, we all know the truth:  the world is full of perils and horrors.  No matter how much we might desire it, we cannot shield children from that truth.

If only it were not so.

I plan to enjoy the holidays.  But I hope never to forget how flat-out lucky I am to have been born into such a blesséd existence.

That's my prayer for this year:  Lord, help me to remember; help me to find a way to ease the suffering of the less fortunate.

I'm just a bleeding-heart liberal, after all.

Good ol' James

Update:  Coworker James and I will make a trip to the Costco today to buy food for the seven needy families that my company is sponsoring this holiday season.  It's a start!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Dream of forever

One morning, long ago, he awoke to the certain, unassailable realization that he was immortal.  This, after countless millennia:  eras of bliss and light, epochs of cruelty, savagery, long years of simple existence marked by the petty joys and tragedies common to every sentient being.

The truth struck him much as his very own thunderbolts had struck down the legions of his vanquished foes:   he could never die nor cease to be.  Never.

From that moment on, his existence became a tortuous burden, a hell more profound than any of the unnumbered gruesome and brutal deaths to which he had borne witness. Each experience was laced with horror.  Horror at the truth:  In the face of eternity, nothing registers.

Fast!  Feast!  It simply did not matter.  In the epiphany of revelation, he became mad.  And he understood immediately that madness was to be his one and only companion. For all eternity.


There came yet another morning when he awoke to find himself seated on a stone chair looking out from an aerie.  He sat above a green vale shrouded in the mist of a roaring falls.  Sunlight glinted off the damp, cool stones in the riverbed.  Refracted light, the full spectrum of colors, danced like phantoms among the water droplets.

In the days before his revelation, such a scene would have becalmed his heart.  Even in the many lifetimes of hardship and despair.  But now, such sentiments were forever erased.  Even their memory was indistinct and fading.

His son, the golden boy with the lyre, stood on the edge of the stone platform, waiting.  How long?  A minute?  A century?  Irrelevant.

"What is it, boy?" he asked.  His voice was stern out of unconscious habit.

"Thy brethren await, father."  The boy's voice was weary.  Could it be that the boy, too, had been damned by eternity?  Who could know?  Though a thousand-million years might pass, who could know?  There had been ten million boys before.

He stirred in response to the boy's statement, lifted his chin from his hand.  Very well, then.  For the billionth time...

On a whim (oh, rare gift!), he paused for a moment.  "Look there," he said to the boy.  He pointed down into the vale.  "Do you see that birch tree that grows on the far side of the ravine?  That birch is the descendant of a seed that was carried down the river, the sole refugee of a fire that consumed a great forest a thousand years ago.  The forest had arisen from the deposited silt carried on a flood ten thousand years before.  The flood was caused by the retreat of a great ice that had held the world in its grip for a million years.

"Do you know that every moment, every single instant, from the time when the first ice crystals began their southward encroachment to this very morning, when I behold my golden son, fingers poised on the strings of his lyre, I have endured my Great Burden?"

The boy cast his gaze downward, shifted his feet.

"Don't you understand?"  he said.  "No dish is so savory, nor pleasure so ecstatic, nor horror so appalling that it can avoid the entropy of the mundane.  Not though a million years pass!"

The boy frowned, sullenly.

Useless, of course.  But law is law.  "Very well," he sighed.  "Are they assembled, then?"

The boy nodded, brightening.

Slowly, he stood.  Far away galaxies altered their rotations to account for the displacement.

He stepped down onto the platform and followed the boy to a long stone stair that descended to a terrace, partially obscured in the mist.

As they went down, the sounds of the river seemed to amplify and resonate.  More so with each step.  He could see the others, his brethren, huddled on the stone terrace below.  They were chanting:  their voices joined to the song of the river.  They peered up at him, expectantly.  Come!  Bestow thy wisdom upon us! they seemed to enjoin.  Just as the billion gods before them had done.  Just as the billion gods after them would do.

As he stepped onto the terrace, they dropped to their knees before him.  Their reverent supplication was the one absurdity that could still evoke a trace of indignation in his being.  But that, too, would fade, was fading.

Their voices rose again, echoing the eons past and those yet to come.

"Hail, Zeus, King of the Gods!"

Monday, December 07, 2009

ASL: Back to the Barricades (Pt. V)

Note to readers: This post won't make a lick of sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the Advanced Squad Leader game system. 

Interested ASL players take note!  Dave Hauth, and I are are engaged in another big battle over the Barricades.  We have come to mutual agreement to each maintain a "blog correspondence" wherein we individually publish our thoughts on our game with the agreement that neither will read his competitor's posts until our campaign game is complete. So, I present to those interested ASL players out there my half of said correspondence.

You can read Dave's half of the correspondence here.  You can read my previous entry here.

Plans for Day 3

Press the attack.  I've got two very explicit goals for the day. 

Right now, there are two tactically important buildings within striking distance of my perimeter.  One of these is Building BB18:  The Red House.  The other is Building J31, the Power Station.  Both of these buildings are level 2 buildings with clear views all the way down the road that runs along the 20 and 21 hex rows, bisecting the board at its equator.  Dave, of course, will recognize the importance of these buildings.  He will have to take measures to protect both or, more likely, burn them.  But he won't know which of the two I will attack.  Plus he has to guard against attacks I might make toward Building 018 or even AA25 from my riverbank salient.  I get the advantage of choosing a target and then setting up for dominance of forces at the point of attack.

So, here's my plan:
  1. I'm going to let the Red House alone on Day 3 and I'm going to push hard for the Power Station. This will mean a full-scale assault on the Russian left.  
  2. On the Russian right, I want to grab Building GG21 which sits just beyond my current perimeter and hold it. 
  3. I'm also going to make a very modest push to clear the area around the Chemist's Shop, but other than that, I will be content merely to dissuade Russian initiatives and hold my ground along the river. 
If I can attain these goals, and keep my forces in those buildings within my perimeter (that is to say, keep them from being Isolated), I'll take an Idle day on Day 4 and be poised for a killing strike on Day 5.

The idea I'm working on is this:  I want to be able to project a lot of firepower onto the "middle area" of the map.  I'm talking about the area around hex P19.  On Day 5, the day after my Idle day, I want to make a combined armored and infantry thrust from the west edge of the board along the road that runs on the 20/21 hex rows.  At the same time, I'll make a smaller thrust from Building GG21 to the west.  If the two attacks can establish contact, I will have isolated all the northern factories.  The Russians in the northern factories will, at the same time, be facing a company of Pioneers who have the job of pest removal.  The Pioneers will enter the factories, from any of three directions (west, north, or east) with their flaming squirt guns and their "welcome baskets."  Any Russians coming from the south to reinforce will have to go through the area around P19, which I hope to have under fire from building J21 and from GG20.  If it all works out... well, like I said:  a killing strike.

Of course, there is that old cliché.  You know?  " No plan survives first contact, yadda, yadda, yadda..."   I'm sure Dave will not be much inclined to oblige me in my efforts.  The Red Army and its wily commander have a way of setting up nasty surprises that ruin everything.  (I refer you to my previous post and the naughty Red machine gun stacks that held up my river advance).

Let's cross that bridge, when and if we get to it...  Whenever I get to planning too far in advance I always remember a button I saw Rodney Kinney, my ASL Sensei, wearing at one of the Wild West Fests.  It's deadpan message?  "Nothing... can possibly... go wrong."

"Master, may I not use my 548 to Prep Fire?" I asked. 
Master smiled.  "A squad may Prep Fire or a squad may move," he said.
"Each of these fruits ripens in its season. 
But the commander whose 548 uses Assault Fire capability is he whose harvest silo is least often empty."

My retained forces for the day are these: 

548 x 18
468 x 4
467 x 9
447 x 2
9-1 x 3, 8-1 x 3, 8-0 x 2, 7-0 x 3
HMG x 2, MMG x 3, LMG x 5, DC x 2, Atr, Lt. Mtr.

StuG IIIB x 2
10-2 Armor leader
1 x Pzkpfw IIIL (immobilized Z2 in bypass along Y3 hexside)

I was awarded 15 CPP for the day, giving me a total of 16 CPP since I saved one point from the previous day.  My purchases for the day are these:

Rifle Coy = 7 CPP
467 x 12
9-1, 8-1, 8-0
HMG, MMG, LMG, Atr., Lt. Mtr.

PzIIIH Pltn = 3 CPP
PzIIIH x 3

Btln Mtr = 2 CPP
Pre-registered hex Y16 = 1 CPP

A total of 13 CPP spent.  I will save the remaining 3 CPP in anticipation of my post-Idle Day "extravaganza."

 Ready to party!
So, here we go.  As my setup reveals, I will attack southward along hex rows A-I with a full Sturm company, supported by a platoon of PzIIIH tanks and backed up by a machine-gun kill stack.  The objective, again, is building J21, where I note that Dave has two stacks of units.  I imagine that the stack in K22 is a squad and leader who will attempt to kindle the building.  If that happens, c'est la guerre.  There's not much I can do about it.  But I aim to be knocking on the door by the end of the day, flame or no flame.

My reinforcing rifle company will come in on the north edge of the board to probe southward through the 06 factory, but if engaged will be content to merely hold their ground.  I have two platoons of Sturm troops around the Chemist's Shop who are charged with clearing the area in the immediate vicinity.  They are supported by a machine-gun kill stack in CC10, and a radio observer in the first level of FF12 who will call down battalion mortar for smoke and support.  But no real effort for the Commissar's House is in the works.  It looks like Dave has set up to put a torch to the place, so I imagine this is the last game day for it to remain intact.

Lastly, my battle-hardened rifle platoon, supported by the two StuGIIIB tank destroyers will grab building GG21 and hold it.  Under no circumstances do I want to go beyond that building and possibly activate Dave's reserve units.

My biggest fear for the day is that Dave is going to hit my attacking Sturm company with pre-registered artillery.  But, hey, this is Stalingrad, folks.

Our game may or may not occur this coming weekend.  I can't wait!  We've got us a good game here.

To be continued...