Monday, January 31, 2011

End of the road for Hosni Mubarak?

Mr. Mubarak, it appears that the time has come...
All eyes are on Egypt.

The people have taken to the streets, demanding governmental reform and the abdication of power by President Hosni Mubarak, who has been at the top of the Egyptian power structure for nigh on 30 years.

It is hard to imagine how Mubarak can survive the upheaval, politically.  The demonstrators who are paralyzing the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez have only one clear demand:  Mubarak must go.

I remember well when I first learned Mubarak's name.  It was back in 1981, in the period following the historic Camp David Accords, brokered by President Carter, between Egypt and Israel.  Egypt's president at the time, Anwar el-Sadat, was a hero to many Americans for being the first leader of an Arab nation to make peace with Israel.  But Sadat's popularity in the United States meant nothing to extremists in his own country. To them, he was a quisling who betrayed the Palestinians.

Radical members of the Egyptian military conducted a bold assassination of Sadat during a military parade, firing into the presidential viewing stands.  In the confusion that followed, Hosni Mubarak emerged as a leader.  He was wounded in the gun play around the assassination, but managed to escape.  He was later sighted giving orders to military personnel, taking charge of the government.

Again, that was in 1981.  But watching the news this weekend, I heard an astonishing fact.  The median age of the population of Egypt, all ~80 million of them, is 24 years.  They are a nation of young people, most of whom have never known any leader other than Hosni Mubarak.  They have no recollection, nor perhaps appreciation of the contrast between today's Egypt and the bitterly anti-Western Egypt that sought to destroy Israel and played footsie with the Soviet Union in the Cold War chess match.

I'm not defending Mubarak.  This is an Egyptian matter.  Egyptians need to sort it out for themselves. Mubarak's record on human rights is appalling and his government is thoroughly corrupt.

I believe the United States is best served by playing it exactly as President Obama is doing:  expressing support for the people, warning against violence, offering assistance when possible.  Remember, Egypt is the recipient of $1.15 billion per year in foreign aid, so Egyptians have a very big interest in maintaining good relations with the United States.

It seems clear that Mubarak's time is up.  All that is left to him is to determine whether his story ends with relative calm or in an eruption of violence and bloodshed.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The endowment of Julija Laenen

Up on top of Tabor, near the very summit, there is a bench that faces eastward.  It is made of sturdy, wooden slats, solid and sound, well-coated in forest green paint.   According to the engraved metal plaque embedded in the concrete foundation, it is an endowment from Julija M. Laenen.   It is an excellent vantage from which to gaze at Old Man Hood, on those days when he deigns to show himself.  (Today, he did not.)

Julija passed in the year 1995, which is significant for me because that was the year that my first marriage ended.  I was living in west Portland in those days.  I did not discover Mt. Tabor City Park until several years later.  It was another several before I discovered Julija's gift.

Julija was roughly my age when she passed.  (I assume Julija was female.  I believe the name is Slovenian.)  But she left a fine gift for the people of Portland.  A fine gift, indeed.

I mean, take a look at that view...

Friday, January 28, 2011

ASL Red Barricades: Today the Volga, tomorrow the Vistula (Pt. VII)

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.

Dave Hauth and I are engaged in a playing of RBCGI:  Into the Factory.  I'm the Reds.  He's the Jerries.

We're each maintaining a blog correspondence as the game progresses.  We've a Gentleman's Agreement that neither of us will read his opponent's blog until given express permission to do so. 

Readers are encouraged to comment!  Speak your piece! Just be sure not to inadvertently reveal any information about Dave's plan to me or vice-versa. 

You can read earlier episodes of my account:
You can read Dave's blog here.

Aftermath of CG Day 6

CG Day 6 saw the most savage fighting yet of the campaign game.  The Germans suffered 69 CVP, while the Russians suffered a whopping 110 CVP!   The fighting took place in three sectors.

Day 7 perimeter
In the north, where I had set up for a diversionary attack toward the O10 factory I received a nasty surprise.  I pushed my two T34 M41 tanks way out to the west on Turn 1, determined to crush a German machine-gun nest in hex P5.  But on Turn 2, to my surprise, Dave entered a Sturm company on the northern board edge!  My tanks were caught in a bad place without infantry support.  They succumbed fairly quickly to the marauding shock troops.  From there, Dave pushed southward toward the Chemist's Shop.  My two platoons of infantry and the 82mm Mortar did what they could to stop him, but I was out-manned and out-gunned.  At the end of the game (which lasted 7 turns), Dave had control of the Chemist's Shop and had annihilated all my troops in the area.

In the factories, Dave set up his shock troops in big stacks, which he then used to pulverize my conscripts as he pushed eastward.  He made good progress, seizing the R23 factory and all but the few southernmost hexes of the P21 factory.  Once again, his eastward progress was stopped only by some desperate intensive fire by my 76* howitzers, one of which went to its reward.

The big counterattack I had planned for the south succeeded nicely.  I was not only able to completely win back the P33 factory, but I annihilated the Germans guarding that factory and put a big hurt on Dave's reinforcing rifle company that came hustling in from the western board edge.  My T34 M43s were unstoppable down there.

Dave sees this...
The stake is in the ground

There is no retreating at this point.  Just stand here and slug it out.  My retained forces are these:
  • 9-0 x 2, 9-1 x 3, 8-1, 8-0 x 3, 7-0, 6+1
  • 82mm Mtr.
  • 76* INF 
  • T34 M43 x 3
  • T60 M42 x 2 (dug-in hexes T31 and V31)
  • 628 x 9
  • 527 x 3.5
  • 458
  • 447 x 2
  • 426 x 4
  • 228 x 2
  • .50-cal HMG, HMG, MMG x 2, LMG, Lt. Mtr., Atr x 3, German Lt. Mtr., German Atr x 2
  • OBA Module 80mm Mtr (scarce ammo, pre-reg hexes Q33, U38)
Looking over this list, it is obvious that my casualties from Day 6 were huge.  At the end of that day, the Germans had twice as many squads as the Russians.  I don't know that I've ever seen that be the case this far into a campaign game.

Which brings up another point:  the way this game is playing, with neither side gaining any clear advantage, it is conceivable that we could play out the campaign all the way to the end.  I've never seen that happen before, either.  Dave and I are in uncharted territory here, as regards Red Barricades.  It should be interesting to see how it plays out.

Day 7 setup
Once again, I'm awarded 18CPP for the coming day.  My purchases are these:
  • I2 Guards SMG Coy (reserve)
    628 x 9
    8-1, 9-0

  • I3 Rifle Coy (reserve)
    447 x 12
    HMG, MMG, LMG, Atr., Lt. Mtr.
    9-1, 9-0

  • I4 SMG Coy
    527 x 9

  • A2 T70 Pltn (dug-in)
    T70 x 3
    8-1 AL
    I'm pretty sure Dave will be buying armor for this campaign day.  He needs it.  But I can't afford to buy a proper AT Battery, so I'm settling for a platoon of dug-in T70s with their 45L guns that could prove troublesome to incoming German armor.  More about these later.

  • M1 80 Fortification points
    AT Ditch
    HIP:  Squad, HS, SMC x 3, AFV x 6
    ? x 14
I'm more or less compelled to buy 3 infantry companies after suffering such devastating casualties.

Day 7 setup, north
On Day 6, Dave took the Chemist's Shop, as told.  So the noose is closing in the north.
I've set up my reserve rifle company in the Commissar's House and vicinity.  They get the duty of doing what they can to guard the riverbank.

I've got a hidden .50-cal HMG on the second level of the Commissar's House.  Dave will certainly know that there is something hidden somewhere on the second level, but he still has to deal with the fact of it.

I've got a hidden spotter in GG21, sighting for the surviving 82mm Mortar. 

Unfortunately, the weather for Day 7 is clear, and that means one thing:  Dave will be buying Stukas.  So, in anticipation of that unhappy development, I'm setting up my T34s in the factories, where they will stay and support the infantry.  I'm spending 30 Fortification points to hide them and the dugin T70s, as well.  I'll keep the T34s hidden for as long as possible, hoping to avoid the Stukas and maybe just catch Dave by surprise here and there.

Day 7 setup, south
In the south, I'm starting to fortify the P33 factory.  This may be where the Red Army is forced into its final stand.  An AT Ditch in O34 makes it less easy for German tanks to enter the factory.  And two of my hidden T70s are poised on the flanks to open up as the Panzers approach from the west.

My reserve Guards SMG company awaits the Germans within the factory, and I've still got my 80mm Mortar OBA module to assist in the defense.

My reinforcing SMG company will enter wherever the need seems most dire.

My Red Army heroes and the mighty Sixth Army are approaching a culmination.  Now is not the time to lose our nerve.

To be continued...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Book review: Fire at Eden's Gate

My book club selection for this go-round, suggested by the estimable Mr. Johnson, was Fire at Eden's Gate, written by veteran Oregon journalist Brent Walth.  It is a biography of Oregon's most revered governor, Tom McCall, who served from 1967 through 1975.

The book had a lot of personal significance for me.  My maternal grandparents, Bob and Gertrude Metzger were "Tom McCall Republicans."  They spoke his name with reverence and respect.  And I'm old enough to remember when Tom McCall was the governor of our Great State of Oregon.  He led the charge against polluting industries that had poisoned our rivers.  He established the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) which preserved Oregon's beauty against the threat of suburban sprawl. 

But Walth's book gave me a much deeper perspective into Tom McCall, the man.  McCall came from a New England patrician family; he was a hard-drinking, salty-talking ambitious politician who was surprisingly vulnerable to public sentiment.  He was an anguished father.  He was an angst-ridden son. 

Besides McCall, the book provides perspective into some of Oregon's most renowned sons:  Governor-then-Senator Mark Hatfield, Governor Bob Straub, Governor Vic Atiyeh, Senator Bob Packwood and others are all present in the story. Further, the book made me aware of some previously-unknown names that are important to Oregon's history:  Glenn Jackson, the kingmaker; Richard Chambers, the quixotic eccentric who single-handedly brought about Oregon's revolutionary Oregon Bottle Bill.

Walth does a fine job of identifying the crucial moments in McCall's career and giving them appropriate focus.  He, Walth, delves into each event meticulously and thoroughly.  So, for example, he dedicates a chapter to Vortex, the hippie music festival that Governor McCall authorized as a means of drawing potential war protesters away from Portland, where President Nixon was to visit.  Another chapter deals with McCall's (in)famous "Visit, But Don't Stay" campaign.

In reading the book, I became aware of how different is our monde politique today.  The Republican party of 2011 would have no place for a man like Tom McCall. McCall was an independent thinker, willing to buck party leadership in the interests of his state.  Further, in those days, personal troubles (like McCall's excessive drinking, or his son's drug problem) didn't get blasted over the airwaves and in the papers.  Politicians were not as vicious with each other.

Walth is a disciplined writer.  He keeps himself on a pretty tight leash.  At times, I found the writing to be a bit dry.  But his careful research and clear perspective make this book a quality read for anyone interested in Oregon's recent history.

And as for Governor McCall...

Tom McCall rescued this state, my one and only home, my Oregon, from rapacious industry and greedy land developers.  In my mind, he will always be Oregon's environmental savior.  My gratitude to him is boundless.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

President Obama pitches it right down the middle

President Obama delivered the State of the Union address last night, calling for bipartisan cooperation and for progress in areas where he believes Democrats and Republicans can find common ground.

The atmosphere surrounding the speech, coming as it did in the wake of the Tucson tragedy, was more somber and less partisan than has been typical in recent years.  The ovations that typically interrupt the State of the Union address were less sustained, less boisterous, and certainly less politically pointed.  Part of that, no doubt, was due to the suspension of the congressional tradition of dividing the House chamber along strictly partisan lines.  So, for example, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) sat side by side in the audience. 

In his remarks, the President repeatedly called for bipartisan cooperation.  He made mention of various issues and solutions that might find appeal with each side of the left-right political spectrum.  So, for Republicans, the President suggested that the health care reform bill that passed last year could be improved with "medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits."  For Democrats, there were calls for investment in alternative energy research and funding for education and infrastructure improvements.   

(My own liberal inclinations got a nice boost when the President urged against "subsidiz[ing] yesterday's energy."  That must surely have made some of the black hearts in Big Oil board rooms skip a beat or two.) 

This was certainly not the most rousing State of the Union speech I have seen.  And, it seemed to me that the President went light on the soaring rhetoric.  I felt the speech was a down-to-earth, practical statement:  For this country to thrive, we need to work together.  The President extended an olive branch and expressed a willingness to listen to Republicans.  

Now, let's see if the GOP has enough integrity left in it to respond in kind.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Movie review: The Way Back

The Way Back is Peter Weir's latest film, "inspired by real events" (whatever that may mean).  I went to see this flick on a snap decision.  A television reviewer gave it high marks and, since I'm fascinated  by World War II history I jumped all over it.   

The Way Back is the story of a group of non-persons in Soviet Russia during WWII who escape from a Siberian gulag and walk 4000 miles across hostile territory to India.  The film stars Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saiorse Ronan, and Colin Farrell.  Although Sturgess is denied top-billing in favor of Harris, Sturgess in fact plays the lead role of Janusz, a Polish political prisoner sentenced to 20 years of hard labor in one of Stalin's ghastly labor camps.  Janusz conspires with an American caught up in the Stalinist purges, Mr. Smith (Ed Harris) and with other prisoners to escape into the Siberian wilderness and begin a hopeless trek southward to freedom.

I'm afraid I found little to like about the film. 

Ed Harris delivers, as we certainly expect from a seasoned actor of his stature.  I was particularly stricken by one scene in which Janusz and Mr. Smith argue about the direction they should take somewhere in the desert wastelands of Central Asia.  Janusz insists that they stay on course, due south, while Mr. Smith urges that they diverge from their path, to the east, to find water.  "You'll kill us all!" Janusz proclaims.  Mr. Smith replies "Janusz, we're already dying."  Ed Harris delivers the line with matter-of-fact sincerity and an imploring expression that says "Can't you see it?  Can't you understand?"

But, apart from Harris, the rest of the cast was mediocre.  I generally dislike it when actors deliver lines in English with affected accents, and Collin Farrell brought that home to me with his goofy Boris Badenov impression.  Further, I thought the script was poorly written.  The characters were shallow stereotypes:  the Joker, the Sensitive Artist, the Cranky Cook. 

I'll give him this:  Peter Weir knows his target audience and he never diverts from his straight-on drive to appeal to it.  The inclusion of Irena (Ronan) seemed little more than a sop to the female component of the audience.  Although the subject-matter of the film (a Soviet gulag) has the potential for real drama, Weir puts a soft focus on everything.  The film does nothing to convey the real horror of the gulag; the privations of the escapees are under-played, as if dying of thirst is little worse than having chapped lips.

Well, it's probably true that leisurely Saturday afternoon movie-goers, out to have a nice time with their spouses, don't want to be subjected to a depiction of what really went on in Soviet gulags.  Nor do they care to think about the reality of death due to starvation or dehydration.  Not to worry.  Weir handles everything gently. 

I came away from the film underwhelmed.  The denouement was absurdly brief.  The characters were not memorable. 

This wasn't a bad film, but I would probably have been better off following the advice of respected friends and going to see The King's Speech instead.

Peter Weir has made some good flicks (Gallipoli, Dead Poets Society) and some mildly entertaining diversions (Master and Commander, The Truman Show).  The Way Back belongs in the latter category.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Political wrap-up

The political zeitgeist of this country is, once again, in flux.  What are we to make of these developments?

  • President Obama's approval numbers are on the rise again.  He's currently at 53% approval, which is a 7% jump since the end of last year.  I perhaps stand as exemplary of the turnaround.  When the President announced the tax deal he made with Republicans in the Senate, I deemed it the final straw.  But then, following quickly on that deal, the lame duck Congress kicked into high gear and passed a lot of good, marginally-progressive legislation.  Then, after viewing the President's eulogy for the victims in Tucson, he won me over again.  So, I'm one of that 7%.
  • Things are off to a bad start for Speaker Boehner's House of Representatives.  The Republican caucus found itself in the awkward position of having to pass legislation to repeal last year's health care reform bill even as the public is warming up to the new reforms.  The bill calling for out-and-out repeal passed the House, but will go nowhere in the Senate, which is still run by Harry Reid.  Now, Boehner is faced with a predicament:  move on to other issues and risk infuriating the Tea Party base; or continue the quixotic fight and risk seeming out of touch with the political "middle" which has expressed a desire to see bipartisan cooperation and jobs legislation.
  • Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut announced on Wednesday that he will not seek reelection to the US Senate in 2012.  "I've never shied from a good fight and I never will," said he, as he made his announcement.  Good riddance, says I.  There's no need to recount all the ways in which Lieberman has infuriated me (and many others) with his sanctimonious nonsense.  The writing was on the wall and he read it.  He could not win reelection.  But don't think he won't be around to plague us in the future.  Whether he chooses a behind-the-scenes lobbying job on K Street, making bank by serving insurance companies and defense contractors, or perhaps serves as a token "Democrat" in some future Republican administration (perhaps as Defense Secretary), I have a feeling Joe Lieberman is with us for the duration.  (Just like herpes simplex virus.)
  • Democratic prospects for holding a majority in the Senate after the 2012 elections are dim and growing dimmer.  Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) announced that he will not seek reelection.  The chances of another Democrat winning that seat are slim.  After all, North Dakota has not voted for a Democratic Presidential candidate since LBJ crushed Barry Goldwater in 1964.
  • It seems that Sarah Palin's star may finally be setting.  After her ill-advised remarks defending herself in the wake of the Tucson tragedy, in which she invoked the historically-loaded term "Blood Libel," elected Republican officials were noticeably disinclined to leap to her defense.  And why should they?  They want her out of the way.  They don't want her complicating the political equation in the run up to the 2012 Presidential election.  Fox News, of course, is doing its best to keep her relevant.  They've invested a lot of money in her, after all.  The problem is that the Sean Hannity interview was so obviously softball that even Fox News viewers saw through it.  If she wants my advice (and I just know she does), I will tell Sister Sarah to stash her lettuce, stay up in Alaska, and live the easy life.  That's what I'd do, if I were her.

  • Ron Reagan, Junior, has written a book about his father, entitled My Father at 100.  In it, he suggests that President Reagan may have been suffering from symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease during his presidency.  Ron's brother, Michael Reagan, a conservative radio talk-show host, denounced the book and his brother, stating:  “Ron, my brother was an embarrassment to his father when he was alive and today he became an embarrassment to his mother."  I'm not a big fan of Ronald Reagan, and even less a fan of Michael.  Nonetheless, it is always tragic and sad to see a man publicly denounce his own brother.  Patch it up, you two!
All in all, an interesting week or two, politically.  Interesting times ahead...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Noldor in Tabor!

Flanks clad in Douglas-fir, blackberry, rhododendron, Oregon Grape, and Paleozoic sword ferns.
You never know what you're going to see in Mount Tabor City Park.

Bronchitis be damned!  I could not resist the call of clear blue skies and sun.  So I took a stroll up that way this afternoon.  When I got to Tabor's crown, the city to the west was awash in bright sunlight.  But eastward, Old Man Hood was wrapped in cinerious gloom; he did not deign to show himself. 

I swear I espied Noldor walking among the big Dougs.  Should I have been surprised?  Tabor would be one place where you might see them, were you to see them.  But it is definitely not something you see every day. 

From here, whence, O Noldo?
I imagine that these last few lingerers were making their way west, to the sea, where they will embark at last on their voyage to the Undying Lands. It is time for them to accept the pardon of Manwë, seated on his throne in Taniquetil.

Long ages past, Fëanor, in his pride, called them to arms against the Great Enemy, Melkor, whom Fëanor named Morgoth.  They say that the power of Fëanor's voice rose to such heights that none who heard it could resist.  And he led them forth from Aman to win the Silmarils from Melkor's crown.

And we all know how that turned out!  (Tolkien fans will know, anyway.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Playin' them neuroses like a fiddle

Me and my buddy Will.  Doesn't this look like an album cover?
Anxiety disorder.  Social anxiety.  Depression.  Stuff I carry around.  Endowments, I suppose, from living for many years in emotionally volatile environments.  (All kinds of 'em.)  They've got pills for all that now.  Besides, we're every one of us dragging a cross up Calvary Hill and my sack of woes is penny-ante stuff measured against the many sore trials of humanity.   

Wintertime will set a man to brooding, though.

Tragedy in Tucson, the death of a friend, bronchitis, a cacophony of clamoring voices --all arriving just as the compass needle starts to spin.  Each face is a palette of roiling emotions.  Claw and fang.  Madness looms. 

And suddenly silence.  And finding myself standing, you know, right in the middle of it, just looking around.  And smiling to myself because right now I'm right with everyone I need to be right with.  And because --well, because I feel up to it.  I feel up to whatever it may be. 

What a life!  What a life!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mr. President, it just might work...

As the memory of President Obama's historic speech fades, I believe the American public is holding its collective breath to see if his call for more civility and respect in our politics will take hold.

I am hopeful.  Check this out...

Senator Mark Udall of Colorado has put forth a proposal that breaks a partisan tradition in Congress.  Senator Udall's idea is so simple and obvious that Americans everywhere must surely feel a little sheepish that no one had suggested it earlier.

It is this:  At the State of the Union address later this month, rather than dividing Congress into Democratic and Republican seating sections, as if they were at a college football game, have the various members of Congress sit amongst each other.

You know?  Desegregation.

So far, from what I've read, the idea is getting bipartisan support, ranging from Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell in the Senate, to Steny Hoyer in the House.  Speaker Boehner gave a less-than-enthusiastic response.  "Members of Congress choose where to sit at the State of the Union," he said through a spokesman. Well, at least that's not a flat-out "No."

It seems like a small thing.  But, we've been at each other's throats for so long now that even this small thing counts for something.

Let's be real.  There is a risk with getting on board the "hippie-dippy" love train.  Nobody wants to end up looking like a head-in-the-clouds dreamer.  But, I think Americans are ready to be reconciled to each other.

As President Obama said, if we really want to honor the fallen from the Tucson tragedy, we ought to give it a try.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Conservatives: A sincere apology and a friendly wager

The eulogy that President Obama delivered on Wednesday in response to the tragedy in Tucson last week was nothing short of Lincolnesque.  Were I to return to this earthly plane some 100 years from now, I would not be surprised to find this speech among the Great American masterpieces of rhetoric, alongside the Gettysburg Address.  (Stay with me, my conservative friends.)

The President's remarks were so apt for the occasion, and his call for greater respect and civility so compelling that I am determined not to resort to the ugliness and name-calling that has for so long marred the public discourse. The President showed great leadership and I, being a patriotic American (I don't use that appellation to describe myself often), vow to do my part going forward.

So, I’ve got an apology to make to any conservatives that might read this, for all the mean things I’ve said in the past.  I have many, many dear friends and family members who consider themselves conservatives.  Were I denied their love and friendship due to my own cruel words, my heart would be forever broken.

My friends, I apologize. 

And I want to make a mild challenge and a friendly wager with any conservatives who might read this blog:
  1. Read (or better yet, listen to) President Obama’s entire speech on the Tucson tragedy. I have it posted at this site:

  2. If you can find even a single statement, anywhere in the speech, that you find objectionable, I owe you one item on the menu at Peet’s Coffee, on the corner of SE 37th and Hawthorne, in Portland, Oregon, redeemable whenever you find yourself in my neighborhood.
Is that fair?

Friday, January 14, 2011

ASL Red Barricades: Today the Volga, tomorrow the Vistula (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.

Dave Hauth and I are engaged in a playing of RBCGI:  Into the Factory.  I'm the Reds.  He's the Jerries.

We're each maintaining a blog correspondence as the game progresses.  We've a Gentleman's Agreement that neither of us will read his opponent's blog until given express permission to do so. 

Readers are encouraged to comment!  Speak your piece! Just be sure not to inadvertently reveal any information about Dave's plan to me or vice-versa. 

You can read earlier episodes of my account:
You can read Dave's blog here.

Aftermath of CG Day 5

Nasty fighting in the factories!  Here's the perimeter for the end of CG Day 5.

Day 6 Perimeter
As the day started, Dave was poised for a big attack into the P33 factory.  He had a huge force set up to attack into it from the south.  But the ambush that I had set for him around the T38 bridge bloodied him up before his attack could really get underway.  Eventually, his forces rallied and pushed east of the P33 factory to meet my reinforcing rifle company and T34s.  A fight developed within the factory and in the buildings just to the east.  It went back and forth, but in the end, I not only held my ground in the factory, but gained a hex or two.  All of this came at a huge cost to both sides.

In the middle of the map, Dave dropped a 150mm artillery module that missed its targets for the first two turns of the game.  He finally got it dialed in where it tore up some of my trench lines and destroyed my fortified building with the 9-1 leader and MMG.  But his attack in the R17 factory didn't go anywhere either.  And I don't think Dave got sufficient return on his investment with the big artillery.  On the last turn of the game, I was able to break Dave's 10-3 leader, who was directing a huge machine-gun stack, using spotted 82mm mortar fire.  I then managed to get a rifle squad into close combat with the 3 vehicular crews that manned his machine-guns, kill them, and capture 3 German HMGs and an MMG.  Big score at the end of the game.

Dave made the most ground with his reinforcing rifle company which charged into the P21 factory and chased away my conscripts.

I'm very happy with the day's results, but I can't imagine Dave is too upset about them.  The Germans suffered 41 CVP.  The Russians suffered 63 CVP.  So, even though Dave didn't gain much ground, he still met his goals for casualties.

On the whole, I'd say the day went in Dave's favor.  But I'm getting stronger all the time.  And I'm sure Dave knows that each day that the campaign continues, his prospects diminish.

Hang on, lads!

My retained forces are these:
  • 10-0 (wnd), 9-0 x 3, 9-1 x 2, 8-1, 8-0, 6+1
  • 82mm Mtr. x 2
  • 76* INF x 2
  • 628 x 7
  • 458 x 2
  • 447 x 8.5
  • 426 x 11.5
  • 228 x 2
  • 127 x 3
  • .50-cal HMG, HMG, MMG x 2, LMG, Lt. Mtr x 3, Atr x 2, German HMG x 3, German MMG
Note the big heap of German machine-guns I grabbed from Dave after his 10-3 leader beat feet out of the way of my mortar.

Dave sees this...
With the campaign balance provision, I am awarded 18CPP.  My purchases for the day are these:
  • I5 Milita Coy
    426 x 12
    MMG, LMG, Atr, Lt. Mtr.
    9-1, 9-0
    This is my last militia company.  I rolled snake-eyes on the leadership roll and so got 2 very decent leaders:  Pasha Ivanovich, the former machinist from the tractor factory, whom the men call "Little Cousin" because he is scarcely more than a boy in years, and kindly, proud Comrade Bezuhov with special letters of commendation from Comrade Brezhnev.

  • I4 SMG Coy
    527 x 9
    9-1, 7-0

  • A4 T34 M43 Pltn
    T34 M43 x 3
    With these hammers, I will seek the German nail heads!

  • A1 T60 Pltn (dug-in)
    T60 x 3
    Now that the lines have solidified, my little dug-in machine-gun nests may fare better than they did on Day 2.

  • +1 additional pre-registered hex for my retained 80mm OBA module
    I've had this module hanging around for 2 days, but now I have a plan... Pre-register hex U38 so I can smoke the bridge over the gully...

  • M1 40 Fortification points
    HIP:  Squad x 4, HS, crew, SMC x 3
    ? x 15
Day 5 setup
The Plan 

As I was making my purchases, it suddenly struck me that the Red Army is strong. Very, very strong.

There is a point in any Red Barricades campaign, and it happens quite suddenly, when the Russian becomes too strong for the German to overcome. Looking over my OB and my position on the map, I believe we have reached that point. Dave and I haven't discussed it, but I wonder if he might sense it, too. 

After two campaign days of high-casualty but indecisive fighting, the Russian position has gone from just a hair shy of hopeless to indomitable.  Just take a look at what I've got.
Day 5 setup, north
In the north, the front is fully manned.  I plan to hunker down and hold my ground for the most part.  I've placed my two remaining T34 M41 tanks (with Inexperienced crews) up by the Chemist's Shop as a decoy.  I will make a small attack toward the O10 factory, leading with the tanks.  I'm hoping that Dave, espying my tanks, will set up to crush such an attack, leaving him weaker in other areas.

 Day 5 setup, south
My objective is to have undisputed control of the P33 factory when the game day ends.  I've set up in a defensive posture in the northern portion of the factory.  My hope is that Dave will choose to load up P33 with Sturm troops and point them northward for an assault into the R27 factory

As he steps off his attack, I hope to give him a nasty surprise.

Counterattack for the P33 factory
I've hidden a platoon of elite SMG troops south of the gully.  On Russian Player Turn 1, my 80mm Mortar module will drop smoke to cover the bridge.  The T34s will enter on the southern board edge, and my hidden platoon will make their move northward.  Hopefully, Dave's troops in the P33 factory will be caught between hammer and anvil.

It's a chance for a big score.  It could even prove decisive for the campaign.  We'll see...

Scheduling difficulties indicate that it will be a while (a month?) before we can next play.  I can't wait, dammit!

To be continued...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

President Obama speaks to the Tucson tragedy

President Obama spoke last night at the University of Arizona at a memorial for the victims of the tragedy that unfolded in Tucson on Saturday.

I was deeply moved by his words, as I feel any honest person must have been.  The President said not a single thing to which any good-hearted American could object.

Was it not so?

I'd just like to point out some particulars in his remarks that I found personally inspiring. a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -- at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do -- it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.
These words struck a deep, dissonant chord in my being.  I felt admonished by them.  As anyone who reads my political posts on this blog knows, I've regularly and frequently resorted to hurling indignities and insults at people with whom I disagree.  That ends today.

I will no longer use the term "tea-bagger" to describe people who hold political views different than mine. 
I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here --they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

That's what I believe, in part because that's what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation's future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us -- we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations.
Mr. President, I acknowledge the wisdom of your words.  I look forward to finding a way to work with all Americans.  We do need to pull together.

I'm ready.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Oregonians, remember the Winter of '96?

Flood of '96
We had freezing rain last night up here in Portland.  Très dangereux!  And that old East Wind was howling like a banshee.  My Klamath Falls brethren and perhaps people from New England and the Mid-West like to poke fun at Portland folk for our seeming propensity to panic whenever the temperature drops below freezing.  But they don't know about our East Wind.  When that mean old daddy comes ripping out of the frozen eastern prairies through the natural funnel of the Columbia Gorge, he'll freeze you to the bone.  Falling rain hits the ground and immediately freezes.  It gets so treacherous that you can't even walk on the sidewalk without risking injury.

One of the Senegalese families in the area, friends of Maty and I, just had a baby a couple days ago, and so last night we braved the icy streets to deliver the traditional Senegalese gift to a family with a new addition:  food, and lots of it.  (A fine Senegalese tradition.)

We made a perilous drive across town, and it got me to thinking about winters here in Portland. In the 22 years that I have lived in Portland, there has never been a winter like the Winter of '96.

We had abnormally high rainfall that winter, but low snowfall.  In late January we had a huge snowstorm which piled snow onto the rain-saturated earth.  The snowstorm was followed by a deep freeze that lasted for more than a week, paralyzing the city.  The surface streets were coated with sheets of ice. 

When the warm air from the Pacific finally did thaw the ice, it brought rain with it.  The earth could hold no more water.  The Willamette River rose 29 feet, ten feet above flood stage.  The water came within a hair's breadth of over-topping Portland's seawall.  Volunteers frantically piled sandbags along the city riverfront.  Oaks Park, sited in Sellwood next to the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, was completely submerged.   

Well, the Winter of '96 was a hell of a winter.  I wouldn't mind if I never saw another one like it.  But something tells me that there is more on the way.

That's life, here in Oregon, eh?

Stay warm and dry!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Lead the way, Oregon!

John Kitzhaber was sworn for an historic third (non-consecutive) term as governor of the Great State of Oregon.  He'll be governing a state that is in a bad way.  Our unemployment rate is 10.6%.  We face a $3.5 billion shortfall for our state budget.  Nonetheless, Governor Kitzhaber's speech was upbeat.  You can view the entire speech here.

Our state legislature is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.  In the House, the split is 30-30.  In the Senate, Democrats have 16 seats, while Republicans have 14.  Unless the parties can find a way to cooperate, our state government could very easily be paralyzed even as our state is in crisis.

But I'm upbeat on that score.  For one thing, Oregon Republicans are not the frothing, neo-Confederate hillbillies that dominate the national GOP.  They never have been.  But more importantly, as the new session begins, our state legislators have already shown an amazing ability to cooperate. The House elected co-speakers Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg) and Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) and have set up a delicate and equitable agreement.  You can read about it here.

Governor Kitzhaber closed his inaugural speech with an impassioned plea to his fellow Oregonians that I believe should inspire all of us. 
Somewhere in America a state needs to be able to demonstrate that we can weather this kind of challenge without losing our sense of community, without losing our commitment to one another, and emerge stronger and more united than where we began.

Let’s make that our state. Let’s make that state Oregon.  --John Kitzhaber, January 11, 2011
We can work together.  We maybe can even inspire the rest of the nation, as we do it.  We're Oregonians, after all.

Congratulations, Oregon Ducks!

Last night, the University of Oregon Ducks football team lost the BCS Championship game to the Auburn Tigers, 22-19.

Tough loss.

It was a shock for me, I'll tell you.  I've watched a few Duck games this season and I didn't think there was any college team that could match them.  Hats off to the Auburn Tigers.

Three of my siblings and their companions were in attendance down in Glendale, AZ.  Duck fans and U of O alumni all.  There are surely some broken hearts among them as they come back to Oregon today.  And no progeny of Ross Cariaga is ever going to be content with second place.

As condolence, I cite the words of my friend, Dan Binmore [paraphrasing]:  Victory would be meaningless if it didn't hurt to lose.

Folks, I've been an Oregonian all my life.  And I am damned proud of that.  As we start this new year, between our state government and our Oregon Ducks, the reasons I am proud should be apparent to anyone.

Land of the Golden West.

NoteJeff Lucas is right.  Positive is better.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

What Tucson says about tea-bagger courage...

Being a liberal, I am aware that words have consequences.

So, people who call themselves conservatives and who are dear to me (there are many) may be hurt or offended or outraged by what I have to say.  And if those people feel that we must be forever estranged hereafter, I say now that I understand and that I will always hold you in my heart,  no matter what happens.

Yesterday, in Tucson, Arizona, a deranged killer opened fire at a meet-and-greet with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, killing Federal judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl, as well as 4 other people, and wounding 14 others, including the Congresswoman.

This, by any definition, is a terrorist attack.  Nor is it the first such incident that has occurred since President Obama was elected.

While conservatives up here in Portland were all aglow at the idea of publicly roasting this stupid Somali kid that dialed a cell phone, they have next to nothing to say about these incidents:
  • The incident in Austin, Texas, involving a man who, in an apparent fit of despair, flew his small aircraft into an IRS building, killing himself and an IRS employee (who was also a war veteran).

  • The incident, again in Pima County, Arizona, involving a home invasion by members of a "border enforcement" group, where they killed a father and his young daughter.

  • The incident in Washington, DC, wherein a racist extremist penned an anti-government screed, then killed a black security guard at the Holocaust Museum.

  • The incident in Powell, Tennessee, wherein a deranged killer, who wrote a screed of hate toward liberals and homosexuals and Democrats, then drove to the Unitarian Church, and went nuts with a shotgun, killing two people.

  • The incident in Witchita, Kansas, wherein a deranged killer, convinced that he was acting according to God's will, walked into a church and shot dead a medical doctor.

  • The incident, right here in Woodburn, Oregon, where a father and son, who fantasized about killing President Clinton, bombed a bank and killed two police officers.
Now, while our vaunted FBI is busy entrapping a foolish Muslim kid in Corvallis, guys like this Jared Loughner are publishing videos on Youtube and posting stuff on Facebook, ranting bizarre conspiracy theories.

Feel secure? Do you feel secure, tea-bagger?

Your tea-bag champions (and would-be champions) were all about cracking down on Muslims and "illegals."  Will we now hear you crying out to investigate what's out here on the Internet and in the media?  I've seen people advocate violence all over the place.  Want examples?  No problem.
There is much, much more, but let's leave it there.

You can tap-dance around it all you want. But you’re still going to have to face the music.  Watching the news today, one thing is apparent.  The Republican party is scared out of its wits, now that this thing in Tucson has happened.

This is the end for the tea-baggers. The GOP is going to abandon you now. Watch and see.

It's from the heart, people.
But, here's what I really want to say. 

It may well be that this kid down in Arizona, Jared Loughner, is a deranged nut and nothing more.  Or, it may be that there is a conspiracy.

Regardless, if you do not believe that the rhetoric that comes out of tea-bag mouths is vile and inciting, and has contributed to what happened, I can say it no more plainly than this:

You're a god-damned fool.

But there's another possibility.  Perhaps, tea-bagger, you do agree that the over-heated rhetoric has contributed to what happened in Tucson.  In that case, if you do not repudiate the violent rhetoric that comes from Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle and others, one must infer that, in the deepest, darkest recesses of your heart, you approve of what happened in Tucson, where the 9-year-old girl was shot dead.  And, inferring further, that means that Jared Loughner has done what you secretly hoped for, but lacked the courage to do yourself.

And that makes you a coward.

(Believe it or not, I say all of this with love in my heart.)

Any comments that are posted which contain only insults will be deleted.  Any hostile comments that do not address specific points in the post will be deleted.

Please forgive me for the self-indulgent nature of this post. 

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Remembering a friend at Laurelthirst Public House

Sitting at our favorite booth in the Laurelthirst, remembering our friend Dave Kocka
On Friday night, a gaggle of old friends made our way down to the Laurelthirst Public House to remember our recently-departed friend, Dave Kocka. We shared old stories, acknowledged the tragedy of a life foreshortened, and each wished his spirit a safe journey.

It was very strange to be in a smoke-free Laurelthirst. I enjoyed it more. (And, come on, you damn hippies, you'll live longer because of it!)  The James Low Band played some great music, including a mournful first set that I felt was very mood appropriate. And, boy, they livened it up in a later set, too. If you get a chance, go see them!

James Low graciously allowed me to relate a story to the crowd (so many of whom knew Dave) between sets at the 'Thirst on Friday night and I thought I'd relate it again here as a final adieu to an old friend.

In spring of 1998, Dave and I traveled to Europe to do a short tour of London, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris.  We had arrived in London's Gatwick Airport and were in the midst of the zombie shuffle through British customs when a customs agent seemed hesitant to allow Dave entry into the country.   The agent was really grilling Dave about his visit to the United Kingdom.  What were his plans?  Where would he be staying?  What was the name of the tour company with which he was traveling?

Dave had the look of a vagabond, with his long, curly, disheveled hair and beard, and his patchy, threadbare clothes, and I attributed the agent's inquiries to concern that Dave might be entering the country to take advantage of their social support system.  Eventually, although he seemed reluctant, the agent let Dave pass.

On the train into London I said, "Dave, you know, if you put on some pants without holes in the knees and wore a button-down shirt, you'd get through Customs a lot more easily."

"Maybe," Dave acknowledged.  "But if I did that, there might be someone out there, some needy person, some person living on the edge, that might be fooled by my clothes.  That person might not recognize me as a brother, as one of his family."

As I said before, Dave Kocka was a very kind soul.  Very kind indeed.

Best to all.

Dave's sister, Victoria, whom I met once years ago, called me on Friday afternoon with a special inquiry that I would like to pass on to any Portland hippies (or anyone else) who might know something about a bass guitar that once belonged to Dave. This bass guitar has special memories for Dave's father, and his family would like to find it, if at all possible.

So, if you know anything about it, please contact me at:
cell phone: 503.449.8834

Friday, January 07, 2011

ASL Red Barricades: Today the Volga, tomorrow the Vistula (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.

Dave Hauth and I are engaged in a playing of RBCGI:  Into the Factory.  I'm the Reds.  He's the Jerries.

We're each maintaining a blog correspondence as the game progresses.  We've a Gentleman's Agreement that neither of us will read his opponent's blog until given express permission to do so. 

Readers are encouraged to comment!  Speak your piece! Just be sure not to inadvertently reveal any information about Dave's plan to me or vice-versa. 

You can read earlier episodes of my account:
You can read Dave's blog here

Aftermath of CG Day 4

On the fourth day, the Jerries rested.

At the end of CG Day 3, the German ELR dropped from 4 to 3 which (I presume) Dave interpreted as an indication that he should take an Idle Day.  A prudent decision and I'm not really surprised.  I had even toyed with the idea of choosing an Attack chit to press him while he was down, but I didn't really have the strength to pull it off.  As it stands, we're squared off for a big fight on Day 5, which makes me nervous.  I know I'll be facing at least 2 fresh Sturm companies on the new day.

 Day 5 Perimeter
Lay on, Macduff!

One thing is sure:  coming off an Idle day, the Germans are going to throw a big punch.  Hopefully, I'm strong enough to withstand it.  My retained forces are these:
  • 628 x 12
  • 447 x 8.5
  • 527 x 2
  • 426 x 19
  • 228 x 2
  • 10-0, 9-1 x 3, 9-0 x 3, 7-0 x 3
  • MMG x 2, Atr x 2, Lt. Mtr. x 2, DC
  • 76* INF x 2 
  • 80mm mortar module, pre-registered hex, scarce ammo
Dave sees this...
I am allotted 17 CPP for the day.  My purchases are these:
  • A3 T-34 M41 platoon (inexperienced) 5CPP
    T-34 M41 x 3

  • I3 Rifle Coy (depleted) 5CPP
    447 x 9
    HMG, Atr, Lt. Mtr.
    9-0, 8-1

  • I7 Heavy Weapons platoon 6CPP
    MMG x 2, HMG, 50-cal. HMG
    82mm Mtr. x 2
    127 x 4
    228 x 2

  • M2 Fortification point 1CPP
    HIP Squad
    HIP crew x 4
    HIP SMC x 3
    ? x 10
Day 5 setup
Normally, I would buy 2 infantry companies in order to make full use of my manpower advantage.  But my troops are so short of hardware after the first 3 days of fighting that I feel compelled to buy a Heavy Weapons platoon.  I need some range and firepower.

The weather for the day is overcast, so I can safely buy a T-34 platoon without worrying about Stukas.  But I had a most unfortunate roll for my armor leadership, resulting in Inexperienced crews for my tanks!  To add to my woes, my reinforcing Rifle company is depleted.  But at least the Heavy Weapons platoon is full strength.

Day 5 setup, north
In the north, I've placed two platoons of Guards SMG troops in the Chemist's Shop.  Their purpose is twofold:  1) Guard against a German attack from the northern board edge; 2) If no such attack develops, press to infiltrate the O10 factory.  The mere presence of these troops poses a threat on the German flank, so I don't think Dave can ignore them.  Thus, they serve to take pressure off other points along the front.  They're supported by a hidden HMG and 9-1 leader in over-watch position. 

I've set up my entire Heavy Weapons platoon HIP to hopefully catch some Germans at unawares as they run from cover to cover.  My 50-cal. and another 9-1 leader are hidden in the upper level of hex GG21 where they can see down the equator, but are relatively safe from attack.  The conscript on the rooftop in CC20 is there to strip HIP status from any German artillery observers on factory rooftops and to act as a spotter for the big mortar in DD19.

I've got two platoons of rifle squads and the two howitzers protecting the crucial area between the R17 and U22 factories.

Day 5 setup, south
My brave militia troops get the sad task of holding ground in the middle factories.  Tough job, and one has to imagine that not many of them will be making it to the chow line at the end of the day.  But that is where I expect the Germans will punch hardest and, in the cruel calculations of war, conscripts are easy to come by.  (Especially in Stalin's Soviet Union, eh?)  Besides, the terrain is such that their poor range will not be quite such a disadvantage.  And, they get that Fanatic bonus in the factories.

My 80mm mortar artillery is still trained on the O33 factory.  I've got a couple platoons of Guards SMG troops down there, plus an 82mm Mortar.  These units are charged with holding their ground until my reinforcing Rifle company and T-34s arrive to assist them.  Then, depending on the situation, I might try to expand my foothold in this factory.  I've got an ambush set near the T38 bridge to surprise any Germans that use Stalnaya Street to advance on my southern flank.

I'm very glad that Dave has used both of his allotted Nebelwerfer modules.  A rocket barrage today would be devastating.  As it is, I won't be surprised to see some big German artillery come raining down.  But it will be hard for his observers to get a purchase on my position.  And any radio-operating Germans on factory rooftops will soon discover my hidden machine-gun nests.

We're scheduled to play tomorrow, January 8th.  This day could be decisive either way, or it could end without either side having a clear advantage.  We'll just have to see...

To be continued...