Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The view from here, November 30th

Hoo, boy.  Ol' Man Anxiety's got me by the throat lately.  Not for any reason I can name.  He's just here chewing on me.  Quoth Good Mister Minor, "You're runnin' around here like a bug waiting to get squashed by a hammer."  Candid, as ever.

These are dying days.  Cold and bright, like a crone's eyes.

Rumors of war and catastrophe, ghastly keening ghost-clouds, pass with the wind.  In Iran, they stormed the British embassy.  At home, a convicted murderer, outraged that Governor Kitzhaber spared his life by placing a moratorium on executions in Oregon, called the Governor a "paper cowboy."  Such grim curiosities are legitimate cause for anxiety, no?  What if they are omens?  What if they are precursors?

The sun sinks too quickly.  The solstice is still three weeks out and I'm already feeling crowded by the darkness.  It grows out of the shadows.  It suffocates the light. 

Is there some horror out there that we can't yet see?  Are the gods holding their breath as we slide toward the Abyss?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A proselyte, a death

One morning when I was feeling I had done wrong by everyone, I stood beside Julija Laenen's bench up on Tabor.  Peering eastward to see if the Old Man would grace me with a glimpse of his wisdom, I became aware of the thunder and boom of a ritual drum.  A deep and sonorous music rolled across the hilltop and through the majestic Dougs.

Alejandro played his drum next to bronzed Harvey Scott.  Alejandro, reaching for wisdom, had come upon a fervent truth.  He seemed eager to share it with me.

"Every day is a ceremony," he said.  "I've seen how people have gathered.  In the last year I've learned so much and come so far. "  His thoughts stumbled upon each other as they raced to get out.

"On the day that I was born, they said I was the grandfather of the earth, that I came down from the stars to spread the spirituality.  I look to the East, to Quetzalcoatl.  To the West, where the sun will set:  the sun that will guide us when we die.  Every day we pray for the transformation.  To the North, is the final resting place.  To the South are the sun temples.  It is there that I will return.

"I've seen how we can become enlightened.  I've seen what we're capable of.  If we all come together in the way that our ancestors believed, we could change the world."

I fumbled for eloquence, but found none.  "I'm behind you 100%," I said.  "Change the world, will you?"

We were at the top of Tabor.  The sun, our guide for the Great Transformation, shone proudly.

Alejandro returned to his drumming.  The throb and boom of his cadence buoyed my spirits as I departed.

A death
I descended to foggy surface streets, remembering the bold and mellow sun, shining on 20-year-old Alejandro.  But for 49-year-old me, the sun was a pale disc somewhere beyond the mist.

A murdered pigeon lay on the sidewalk. A scarlet spot marked the place where its life-blood had gone.  The eyes were closed, the talons clutched upon themselves, as if in ecstasy.

The ecstasy beyond all judgement and doubt.  The ecstasy that comes with arriving at a certainty.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tea Party: Vote Newt! He's everything you want in a candidate!

What a charmer!

It looks like the Tea Party , in their frantic quest to find somebody --anybody --to carry their flag instead of Mitt Romney, may have finally settled.

New Hampshire's influential Union Leader newspaper on Sunday endorsed Newt Gingrich, for President of the United States.  Newt Gingrich!  Can you believe it?

Frankly, I like the Union Leader's pick.  When it comes to representing Tea Party values, there really is no more apt candidate than Newt Gingrich.  Consider:
  • He's (pseudo-)smart!  As one Tea Party enthusiast  recently informed me:  Newt Gingrich is the most intelligent candidate to run for president in the last 20 years.  Gingrich is an ace at speaking in those condescending tones that make Tea Party people swoon.  Or, as Paul Krugman put it:  "...[Newt Gingrich] is a stupid man's idea of what a smart person sounds like." 
  • He will fight for his beliefs!  If there is one thing that Newt Gingrich has proven over his long, storied (and I do mean storied) career, it is that he will fight to the bitter end for what he believes in.  And what he believes in is Newt Gingrich.  That $1.5 million he made lobbying for --er, excuse me --serving as an historian for Freddie Mac from 1999 through 2007 was a tidy sum, but still not enough, apparently, for him to close out his account at Tiffany's where he recently maintained a balance of some $500,000.  His transparent self-interest is refreshing for Tea Party people.  It validates their own stingy attitudes.

  • He is constant as the Northern Star.  Constant, at least, in his inconsistency.  Like so many Tea Party folks, Gingrich can say something one day, and contradict himself the next, nor even bat an eyelash when the contradiction is pointed out to him.  My favorite of his bald-faced absurdities is this remark, which he made when he was trying to extract himself from the mess he got into when he called the Paul Ryan budget "right-wing social engineering."  And I quote:  "Any ad that quotes what I said Sunday is a falsehood."

  • He's a Washington outsider!  Even though he "served" as Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999, he isn't part of the Washington establishment.  After all, his own Republican party forced him to step down in the wake of an ethics scandal that cost him $300,000 in sanctions.  (That pesky Ethics Committee found him guilty of lying to Congress and of violating tax laws.)  Tea Party people respect politicians who treat the Federal government with contempt
In short, Newt Gingrich is the manifestation of Tea Party values:  condescension, cruelty, ignorance, and hypocrisy.

For those of us disinclined to vote for Newt Gingrich (or, for that matter, for any Republican) this is good news.  Newt may not win the Republican nomination, but man oh man, will he make the primaries ugly.

We're just weeks away from the Iowa caucuses, progressives.  Sit back and enjoy.

Run, Newt!  Run!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Movie review: The Descendants

The Descendants, starring George Clooney (the man is nigh on ubiquitous at the cinema these days), opened this weekend to big box office success.  Indeed, the viewing I attended Saturday afternoon at the Fox Tower was full up --not an empty seat in the house.  Credit the marketing folks and Clooney's star power, I suppose.

The Descendants is the story of Matt King (Clooney), a successful Honolulu lawyer.  Matt's wife, Alexandra, is the victim of a recent boating accident that has left her in a coma and Matt in a predicament as he tries to deal with her condition and with their two daughters, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) and Scottie (Amara Miller).  Elizabeth is a rebellious teenager and Scottie is a tender-aged tween.  Matt is simultaneously negotiating a rich land deal that is drawing public attention (and most of it negative).  When he gathers the family, he learns through Elizabeth that his comatose wife was having an affair.

The film has some poignant moments.  'Twould be a hard-hearted soul indeed who could sit through a viewing and not dab at his eyes a few times.  Clooney plays his part humanely and honestly.  And his supporting cast does fine.  I especially enjoyed Robert Forster as Matt's curmudgeonly father-in-law, and Nick Krause as the meat-headed but loveable Sid.

But this flick is all Clooney.  Not complaining, you understand.  I'm a George Clooney fan.

But in the final assessment, despite the sensitive, understated performances, the movie lacks a point.

The film's director, Alexander Payne, seems to have a habit of making films that depict authentically American lives. Authentically American, and frankly, just as pointless.  His earlier efforts, Sideways and About Schmidt, also feature everyday protagonists adjusting to cataclysmic changes in their lives.  And, just as with those two flicks, in the end, you feel as if you've just spent two hours watching an elaborate character sketch.

The Descendants has no great revelations nor any particular wisdom to impart.  It's a film about a middle-aged guy in Hawaii, fumbling through life just like all the rest of us.

This flick is a fine diversion for a rainy afternoon, but don't expect too much.  Payne doesn't seem to aim very high.

Friday, November 25, 2011

ASL scenario replay: Return to Sender

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.

Greetings fellow ASL players!  Thanksgiving weekend would be lacking without a day-long gaming session, would it not?  So I spent a busy day today, raking leaves and running errands for my beloved wife that I might have all day tomorrow to game with ol' Dave Hauth.

Dave and I are set to play the Armies of Oblivion scenario, Return to Sender.  This scenario represents actions that took place in Serbia, in late 1944, when the Bulgarians left the Axis and sided with the Allies, turning on their hitherto comrades.  This action has elite Germans defending a hill from a horde of Bulgarian troops supported by armor they had seized from the Germans.

Dave has the part of the Bulgarians; I'm the Germans.  I'll lay out my plans today, then tell how it all turned out in a future post. 

Here's to the Fatherland!

Dave see this
Return to Sender, designed by Brian Martuzas, features Germans with big Flak guns defending a hill from an onslaught of Bulgarians.  The Bulgarians outnumber the Germans by better than 2 to 1, are supported by two platoons of Pz IV tanks, three armored half-tracks, air support, and a module of 100mm artillery.   The Germans are 548 squads (designated as SS units by SSR), 2 light Flak guns, and 3 big 88L Flak guns.  The Bulgarians enter from the east (board 11).  All German units, apart from the big Flak guns must set up on board 18 and the western half of board 11.  The 88L Flak guns must set up on board 50, the westernmost board.

The Victory conditions are straightforward:  at game end the Bulgarians must control all level 3 and level 4 hill hexes.

Bulgarian advantages are unopposed armor, high mobility (there are 6 trucks to transport infantry) and 30 squads.  The scenario length (10 turns) also works to the Bulgarian advantage, but I suspect the issue will be decided one way or the other long before turn 10.

German advantages are the big Flak guns, which will have no problem cutting through the armor of those requisitioned panzers, and the huge disparity in troop quality between Germans and Bulgarians.

German setup
Note:  Acquisition markers indicate bore-sighted locations.

As the German, I think my biggest advantage is the difference in infantry quality.  My elite Germans will tear up those poor Bulgarians, tanks or no tanks.  The Bulgarians have two platoons of shaky troops for each one of their 5 leaders.

My defense is devised with an eye to exacting a toll on Bulgarian infantry and not worrying over much about the 2 panzer platoons.  The three 88L Flak guns are positioned with good lines of sight across the battlefield, and I'll trust them to make life difficult for marauding armor.

My first order of business, in constructing this setup, was to place my Flak guns, both big and small.  Here's what I did.

Flak gun placement
The big guns are set up with good fields of fire all across the approach to the hill.  By SSR, the Germans must use Red TH Numbers, but even so, this looks like it could be a turkey shoot.  Dave will have to make good use of blind hexes as he moves his tanks forward.

But, of course, given the quality of his infantry, he will need to use his panzers aggressively.  A difficult quandary, methinks.  We'll see how he handles it.

The small Flak guns are set to whack Bulgarian infantry making their way across the low board 11 hills.  Not an inviting prospect for the Bulgarians.  And with such poor troop quality, broken units will be slow to rally.  Dave's leaders will, I predict, have their hands full rallying, probably for the entire game.

Next, I placed Roadblocks.

These placements are pretty straightforward.  The roadblock in E3 and that in Q6 are simply there to channel tank movement toward the center of the board and into the sites of the big Flak guns.  The Roadblock in Y1 is part of a tank trap I hope to create in that area.

At this point in the setup, I organize and place my infantry.  I've got 14 squads and three leaders with good support weapons and foxholes for fortification.  The Bulgarians enter from off-board, so my allotted 16 concealment markers can all be used for dummies.

I divided the infantry between the leaders, 4 squads per leader.  The remaining 2 squads are setup in ambush positions and fulfill my allotted HIP assignments. 

Upper-right sector:  Tank trap
The 8-1 leader directs the MMG and squad and will be looking to punish Bulgarian infantry.  So too with the two 548s with the LMGs.  The tank trap, such as it is involves the 548 with the DC and the hidden squad in Z0.  I put 3 dummy counters in G4 to appear as a squad with machine-gun.

Upper left sector
The remainder of my dummy counters go in this sector to keep Dave guessing. I predict that he will attack down one flank or the other, so I set this area up to appear strong.  Or at least to appear as if it might be strong. Dave is pretty cagey when it comes to these things though, so I don't expect the ruse will last very long.

Middle-right sector

The 9-1 directs the HMG, supported by the light mortars.  Everyone is holed up in Foxholes and ready to beat feet back to the victory hill if the assault comes too strong.  Of course, if things go wrong, these troops will be quickly isolated and destroyed.  C'est la guerre, mon frere.

Lower left sector
If Dave attacks on my left flank, I'm prepared to give ground generously.  The upper left sector is empty deception (apart from a few bore-sighted locations, of course).  But he'll meet resistance when he gets to this point in his advance.

If the attack falls on the right flank, these troops will head for the victory hill to await the final assault.

Victory hill
If the game does last long enough to produce a final Bulgarian assault on the victory hill, I like my chances. The Bulgarian armor will have trouble providing close range support due to the woods and crag hexes that hinder their movement.  The Bulgarian infantry will have to get up close with perhaps as many as two full platoons of elite Germans.

Before ever having rolled the dice, it looks to me like this scenario presents a pretty tough row for the Bulgarians to hoe.  I've told Dave as much.   We'll know soon enough, I suppose.

Update:  What a disappointment!  As I feared, this scenario is utterly lop-sided in favor of the Germans.  The 88L Flak guns commanded the approaches to Board 50 and the Bulgarian infantry "perished like straw in a great fire," as Professor Tolkien put it.  Bummer!

I wonder... is there anyone anywhere who has won this scenario as the Bulgarians?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gratitude for these

Were it all to end tonight, I could only say that I've been given more than any man might hope to expect. For so many reasons.

Among them these:

Where I am.

Who I'm with.

What I believe in.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Book review: Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell's 2004 novel, affirms the impression I had after reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet:  David Mitchell is one of the great writers of our time.

There is so much to say about this novel that it is difficult to know where to begin.  But I'll start with the structure.   

Cloud Atlas is actually 6 different stories: 
  • The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing is the story of a San Fransisco notary bound for home from the Chatham Islands on a trader's ship in the South Pacific in the mid-1800s. 
  • Letters from Zedelghem is the story of Robert Frobisher, a musical prodigy and outcast of a well-to-do family, who takes work as an amanuensis for a master composer in Belgium in the early 1930s.
  • Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery is the story of a beautiful young reporter on the trail of a crooked energy company in California in the 1970s.
  • The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish is the story of an elderly publisher who runs afoul of Irish gangsters and retreats to a home for the elderly, where he is subsequently imprisoned.  This story is set in the United Kingdom in the early 21st century.  
  • An Orison of Sonmi~451 is set in a dimly-visible future Korea, where Sonmi-451, a genetically-engineered "fabricant," glimpses an existence beyond her life as a food server.
  • Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After is the story of Zacry, a goat-herder in post-Apocalyptic Hawaii in the far distant future.
The novel effects a mirror.  It begins with the Adam Ewing story, which is interrupted at its midpoint by the Zedelghem story, which is interrupted by the Luisa Rey story, and so on until the reader arrives at the center story, Sloosha's Crossing, which is uninterrupted.  Sloosha's Crossing is related in its entirety and then the reader is returned to the Sonmi story, followed by the Timothy Cavendish story and so on until the novel concludes with the end of the Adam Ewing story.

But the mirroring exists within the stories as well.  Although separated by oceans and centuries, the stories are connected in subtle ways.  The characters in each story have eerily similar experiences.  Each is confronted with similar dilemmas.

It is a measure of Mitchell's enormous ability that he relates each story in a different style.  The Adam Ewing story invokes Melville, while the Luisa Rey story is written like a modern-day thriller, and the Sonmi story is a social science-fiction tale a la Aldous Huxley.   Mitchell adopts a voice appropriate to each style and does so perfectly --the work of a virtuoso.

At its core, Cloud Atlas is an examination of humanity's conflicted nature.  On the one hand, we are ruthless predators that commit unspeakable cruelties.  On the other, we have a rare and beautiful propensity for compassion, for kindness.  The former threatens to destroy us, while the latter offers, if not salvation, at least redemption.

Cloud Atlas is full of powerful, memorable scenes.  It is moving, hilarious, exhilarating, and horrifying by turns.  It leaves an indelible residue in one's being, a perplexing composite of dread and hope.

What more can you ask of a novel?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Obama's veto threat

He's still got a long way to go before he comes into my good graces, but I will admit that President Obama at least moved the needle in a favorable direction with yesterday's veto threat.

On Monday, the news came down that the super committee had failed (surprise, surprise) to reach an agreement about how to reduce the budget deficit.  Now, because of that failure, there will be an automatic sequestration of the federal budget, cutting $1.2 trillion from education, public housing, and that cow which Republicans hold most sacred, defense.

Cutting defense spending is bad juju for Republicans.  Never mind that the cuts don't even come into effect until 2013.  It doesn't look good.

So, in order to salvage the situation, Republican Buck McKeon (CA) and the old angry badger himself, Senator John McCain, announced that they were crafting legislation that would prevent the cuts to defense from taking place.  The ol' end-around that Republicans became so good at when Junior was in the Oval.

Well, the President put the kibosh on that little bit of skullduggery.  The money quote:
My message to them is simple:  No.  I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending.  There will be no easy off ramps on this one. --President Obama, November 21, 2011
How refreshing!  Tough talk from the president!

But, more importantly, the President's remarks lay out the stark reality for Republicans, and they can see it plain as day.  The President has them right where he wants them.

The Bush tax cuts, the crown jewel of the Bush legacy, are set to expire at the end of 2012.  Republicans want to salvage those tax cuts.  But they can't do so without Democratic cooperation.  President Obama's veto threat slams the door on any hopes Republicans may have entertained about winning over pliant Democrats in Congress, and forces them to return to the bargaining table on deficit negotiations.

If they refuse, the defense cuts go into effect and the Bush tax cuts expire.  If they cooperate, they lose the Bush tax cuts and will be forced to accede to Democratic demands for increased revenues (read: taxes).

All of this is predicated on the Democrats holding firm on their side of the table, of course.  And we all know that there are few commodities more scarce than Democratic resolve.

We'll see how it plays out.  But I wouldn't want to be in Mitch McConnell's shoes right now.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Super Committee fail

With a team like this, how could they fail?
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, the so-called "super committee" has failed to reach an agreement about how to proceed in addressing the budget "crisis" facing this nation. 

The committee was formed to find a grand compromise between Democrats and Republicans over how to significantly reduce the federal budget deficit though some combination of budget cuts and revenue sources.  But now, after weeks of speculation by the political punditry, committee members from both sides of the aisle are admitting that they won't be able to reach an agreement in time to meet the deadline set for it.

But, of course, the "super committee" was never a serious endeavor.

Put aside all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the supposed "death by a thousand cuts:"  the mandatory and automatic cuts to defense, education, and public housing programs scheduled for when the committee fails.  Most of those cuts don't go into effect until 2013... after next year's national election.

This highly-publicized failure is all part of the plan.  Both sides wanted it.  Both sides worked to attain it.  Both sides will use it to the hilt between now and November of next year.  (Who says bipartisanship is dead?)

Republicans will point to the failure as an indication that President Obama and the Democrats are not willing to cut entitlement programs and instead will demand tax increases.  Democrats will point to the failure as an indication that Republicans are beholden to corporations and lobbyists and care nothing at all about the hoi polloi.  And behind it all, the set-to-expire Bush tax cuts hang in the balance.

The "super committee" failure is the non-event to which both sides will point in an attempt to fire up their respective bases for the up-coming election.

Right now, I believe the Democrats have the upper hand.  The Occupy movement is still getting headlines, and may very well have contributed to the recent progressive electoral victories.  The national dialog has changed from a discussion about the debt crisis to a discussion about unemployment and income disparity.  Republicans have no ground to stand on with either of those issues.

But who knows which way the ever-shifting political winds will be blowing by next fall?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

ASL scenario replay: Raus' Sour Krauts (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.

Greetings fellow ASL players!

Dave Hauth and I played the Vincent Maresca scenario, Raus' Sour Krauts.  I found this scenario on Tim Hundsdorfer's ASL web site

You can read the battle prelude here.

Here's how it turned out. 

Splat!  A thorough blunting of the Soviet advance.  A Red Army disaster.

The game lasted through the first two shots of the German Turn 1 Prep Fire Phase at which point Dave had had enough.  I can't say I blame him.  He was down two T34s and a squad.  Another squad was broken.  And his third T34 was bogged within the sites of my smokin' hot 75L ATG.

Here's how it looked.

Weep, Mother Russia
Since the folly of a central attack is now clearly demonstrated, I speculate on 2 alternatives that might have more success.

Roundin' the bend
Option 1:  Flank

Enter your armor, with its full complement of riders (I'd recommend elite troops for the job), on either the extreme east or extreme west flank.  Gather your tanks in the blinds of woods and orchards, staying out of LOS of the top of the hill, as much as possible.

Set up the 1st line infantry so as to harass the Germans and keep them from moving toward the point of attack.  The light mortar and the MMG set up on the elevated road, with a leader just behind it to rally broken troops.  

On Turn 2, the tanks break out and go for the hill.  At this point, I think, it would be okay to be a little reckless.  Swarm the Germans and engage them at close range so that your Turn 3 reinforcements can charge directly across the bridges and straight into the fight.

Guns a-blazin'
Option 2:  The direct approach

Of course, there is always another option.  The clench-your-teeth-and-run-the-bridges option.  Send one tank platoon across each bridge.  At the end of Turn 1, you can be engaging Germans at ranges of 2 to 4 hexes.

It might work.  The Germans can't kill everything.  (Can they?)  And let's not underestimate the psychological effect of audacity.

Expect casualties.  But if you can tie up the Germans, your Turn 3 reinforcements might arrive just in time to turn the tide.


After this playing, Dave is convinced that the Russians are faced with an impossible task.  I agree that the Germans might be too strong.  After all, I completely blunted his initial wave with a single ATG.  (But, then again, he did enter his T34s directly into the sites of my gun.)

It's a bummer when a game goes this badly, but it does happen.

One nit:  The unarmored half-tracks seem superfluous.  There isn't enough time to tow guns around the map.  On the other hand, if there were an SSR that required the Germans to set up the ATG in tow behind the half-tracks, that would add an urgent twist to the German set up.  And it might help with play balance, as well.

I'd like to say thanks to Vincent Maresca for taking the time to design this scenario.  I don't know Vincent personally, but maybe I'll have the honor at a tourney one day. 

Gotta love this game.

Friday, November 18, 2011

ASL scenario replay: Raus' Sour Krauts (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.

Greetings fellow ASL players!

Dave Hauth and I are scheduled to play the Vincent Maresca scenario, Raus' Sour Krauts.  I found this scenario on Tim Hundsdorfer's ASL web site. I loves me some Kursk scenarios, so I talked Dave into giving it a try.

This engagement is part of a Soviet counteroffensive in the last stages of Kursk.  Dave chose the Russians, so I get to set up.  I'll lay out my plans today, then blog over the weekend to relate how it all turned out. 

Wish me luck!

Yay!  A new Kursk scenario!  Of the great battles of World War II, Kursk and Stalingrad are the two that are best represented in the Advanced Squad Leader game system.

One of the most attractive aspects of Raus' Sour Krauts (apart from it being a Kursk scenario) is the Victory Conditions.  They're very clear.  Whichever side controls the most level 3 hill hexes (there are a total of 25) wins the scenario.  These kinds of Victory Conditions make it easy to gauge one's progress over the course of the game and, therefore, make it easier to calculate what constitutes acceptable risk for any particular move.

In this scenario, I'm the Germans.  My forces must keep a superior foe off the hill.  The Russians have infantry superiority and are at least equal to the Germans in armor.  But the scenario is only 6.5 turns.  Time is on the German side.

The German at-start force consists of 2 ATG, a panzer, 2 platoons of 1st line infantry, some fortifications and a couple unarmored half-tracks.  This force must absorb the shock of the initial Russian wave. 

It's a sad duty, I'm afraid.  The on-board Germans will be overwhelmed.  They're outnumbered 2 to 1.  But they must buy precious time for the stronger German force that arrives on Turn 2, and which will be ascending the hill from the south. 

The Russians have a highly-mobile armored force.  Their initial wave includes a platoon of T34s and a platoon of T50 light tanks.  The German ATGs and the Panzer must blunt this force as it approaches from the north.

Above all, I must guard against the Russians storming across the stream in the center of the map.  That is the most direct route to the hill and the most attractive to the Reds, given the time constraints placed on them.

Pretty straight-forward, methinks.

The key to the German defense is the ordnance.  The tubes.  The big caliber weapons. If I can place my ordnance in mutually-supporting positions with good fields of fire, the rest of the setup will fall into place.

So, here's what I came up with. 

Mutually-supporting ordnance
The 50L ATG in 58S10 is set to open up on tanks that may emerge from the stream and come down the Q-R road in the middle.  The Panzer in 58J8 guards 13Y7 bridge and can set up a nasty crossfire with the 50L.  The big ATG in 58O5 can provide support to both the 50L and the Panzer, and can also overwatch the western flank (especially the bridge in 13K6), should the Russian choose to attack from that side.

Now that the ordnance is placed, it's a matter of setting up the infantry.  I have six squads, three machineguns and three leaders, so that makes it easy.  Each leader gets two squads and a support weapon.  The two lesser leaders are assigned guard duty over the ATGs, while the 9-1 with the MMG takes overwatch position on the hill.

The western half of the map looks like this.

Western defenses

The 8-1 and his squads guard the western approach to the hill.  If the attack comes this way, they'll look to pick off tank riders, and fall back up the hill.  If the attack doesn't come this way, they'll fall back up the hill as well.  The only question, I suppose, is whether or not they'll be falling back under fire.

The 7-0 and his two squads are placed to guard the 50L ATG from Russian infantry.  Corporal Braun has orders to stand and hold at all costs.  If the Russians bypass them, these guys will fire to interdict as the Russians charge up the hill.

The half-tracks, it would seem, are for towing around the German ATG, but this scenario is so short (6.5 turns) that it is hard to imagine towing guns around.  Nonetheless, I have placed one of them in location with the 50L ATG.  I placed the other half-track out on the west flank as a deception.  Hopefully, Dave will see it there and guess (incorrectly) that there is an ATG in its vicinity.

Eastern defenses
On the eastern half of the map, there's not much to tell.  The 9-1 and MMG provide over-watch across the entire board.  Targets of choice are enemy leaders, of course.  The Panzer will stand and die in place, if the Russians attack this way.  If they do not, the Panzer will attempt to get to the top of the hill for the final fight.  Foxholes are prepared for the German reinforcements.  The relief infantry can advance into the foxholes rather than onto a completely bald hill.

Final setup
This setup is heavily weighted to guard the center.  Arguably, it neglects the two flanks.  But any flanking attack means the final assault on the hill will be at an oblique angle, allowing me to concentrate my forces.

Besides, if the Russians try to flank, time may buy me what my on-board forces cannot.  The clock is ticking, Ivan!  Can you hear that rumbling on the far side of the hill?  That is the Tiger, Ivan.  He is coming.  He is hungry.

Dave sees this.

Let us see what we shall see...

To be continued...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Maty to the rescue

Some of life's most unpleasant moments are those when one is confronted with the adverse consequences of one's own behavior. 

You do things, knowing that you should not, that there will be detrimental results if you continue to do them.  But you continue on, deferring a necessary change in your behavior, trusting that Judgement Day is still out in the vague and foggy tomorrow.

And then one day, Judgement Day arrives and you find yourself in a fix.  You're left devastated and feeling like a fool.

I had one of those moments, recently.

As part of a health and wellness program promoted by my health insurance company, I submitted a blood sample to a lab for analysis.  The results that came back were a wake-up call.  My blood sugar level was high.  I'm at high-risk for diabetes.

The news really hit home.  I've known for years that my eating habits were unhealthy.  Too much processed food.  Too much starch.  Not enough vegetables.  Well, now it is time to pay the piper.

Maty and I talked about it the other night.

"I feel like such a fool, honey," I said.  "I can't believe I've been so stupid about this.  I should have--"

The look on her face prevented me from continuing.  Both gentle and stern.

"Honey," she said, "love yourself."

I thought about it.

She said it again.  "Love yourself."

I thought about it some more.

I don't deserve this woman.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy Portland - Quit whining, Occupiers! Move on!

Uh-oh.  This could get embarrassing.

The Occupy Portland folks had a little press conference outside City Hall this morning.  Spokesperson Alaina Melville read an "open letter" to Mayor Adams.  Some choice quotes:
[Protesters] were greeted by hundreds of militarized riot police armed with tasers, stun batons, beanbag weapons, tear gas pepper spray and live ammunition. This was shocking to many of us who did not expect you to respond to unarmed, peaceful and joyful protest with potentially deadly force.

You told us on the first day of our protest that you were sympathetic to the goals of our movement and wanted to help find a solution that works for everybody.  The behavior over the weekend of police officers under your command has clearly indicated otherwise. Yours is the latest in a string of aggressive, dangerous crackdowns by city and state governments across the nation attempting to silence the Occupy movement.  --Occupy Portland, via spokesperson
Oh, brother. 

Occupiers, can I give you a little advice?  You know?  As a friend of the movement?
  1. I saw what happened on Saturday night.  Yes, the police were in riot gear.  What of it?  No rubber bullets were fired.  No tear gas was dispersed.  I've said it before, but I'll repeat it now:  Portland Police (including Mayor Adams and Chief Reese) handled the demonstration very well.  If you start crying every time somebody trips on the pavement, or gets put in handcuffs, or gets his feelings hurt, you're going to lose public sympathy in very short order.
  2. Why, Occupiers, are you wasting your energy bitching at Sam Adams?  Even if you think he handled the situation badly, neither he nor the police nor the City are responsible for the current sorry state of our nation.  Go after the villains, not their butlers.
Public attention is heady stuff, so I can forgive being wistful at the thought that the spotlight might be moving on. But, if you're really concerned with effecting change, I'd advise that you lay off the manufactured drama and focus your energies on making life uncomfortable for the big banks, the insurance companies, the resource extraction industry.

You know? That other 1%?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Movie review: J. Edgar

While no one will deny that Clint Eastwood is one of the most successful American actor/directors in cinema history, his latest effort, J. Edgar, proves that even the greats miss the target now and again.

It's difficult to pinpoint where the film fails, because it has so many good qualities.

The acting is good. Leo DiCaprio has proven many times that he's not just a pretty face and he does a fine job portraying America's most notorious G-man, J. Edgar Hoover. Judy Dench is perfect in the role of Annie Hoover, J. Edgar's domineering, nightmarish mother. Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts also perform admirably as Clyde Tolson and Helen Gandy, J. Edgar's two closest confidants. (And, in the case of Tolson, I do mean close.)  Jefferey Donovan's depiction of Robert Kennedy did seem a bit of a caricature, but it's a small part.  Not enough to bring the whole effort down.

The sets and the cinematography are well done.  Anything with the Eastwood name attached to it is bound to have plenty of funding for production, so you know he got the best.  Costumes, sets, lighting --all of it worked well. 

The problem, I believe, is that the film lacks identity.  A film about the longest serving Director of the FBI, about J. Edgar Hoover, the man, might go in any number of directions.  A political thriller involving Hoover and the Kennedys?  A documentary about Hoover's authoritarian legacy?  A psychological exploration of a man with some dark personal secrets?  A conjectural exploration of the contents of Hoover's infamous "secret files?" 

J. Edgar, alas, by attempting to be all of those, ends up being none of them. Mr. Eastwood overreached.  He tried to capture Hoover's entire career, which spanned 7 presidencies, over the course of a mere 137 minutes.  The film touches on all the elements but addresses none of them satisfactorily.

The film also suffers from a confusing chronology, leaping from present day to flashback and back again with no warning.  Characters are presented as young and vital in one scene, then as old and decrepit in the next.

The sad result is that J. Edgar  has no suspense, elicits little in the way of emotional investment, and all in all is just plain boring.  Bummer.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Occupy Portland - Breaking camp

Minutes from Mayor Adams' deadline, an Occupier watches the camp dissolve
Friday night on Newshour

On Friday night, Newshour's Jeffery Brown interviewed Mayor Adams and a spokesman for the Occupy Portland demonstration, Jim Oliver.

Both men acquitted themselves well.  Mayor Adams was reasonable and he saluted the goals of the Occupy movement.  Classy, I thought.  Mayor Adams' handling of this protest has raised my opinion of him as a leader considerably.

Oliver did well, too.  He expressed the larger sentiments behind the Occupy movement clearly and distinctly.  I was on board with everything he said up until the clanging defiant note near the end:
"...our encampment is firmly entrenched in Chapman and Lownsdale squares, and we intend to stay there."
I've held that the protest was unsustainable, almost from the beginning.  Oliver's remark was at odds with everything I'd seen. 

Moral authority, the virtue of the cause, was the strength behind the Occupy Portland movement.  As the camp became less and less a demonstration by political activists and more and more a hotbed of objectionable behavior (the assaults and overdoses, the attempted arson), that moral authority was eroded.  And without it, the Occupiers can never muster the resolution needed to continue to defy Mayor Adams and the City of Portland.

I intend no disrespect to the demonstrators, but Oliver's remark seemed desperate and pathetic.  Empty bravura. 

Saturday morning

So, next day, I went to see for myself.  I arrived at the Occupy Portland camp around midday.  Things were bustling.  People were breaking camp.  Voluntarily.

There was some grumbling ("What happened to 12:01am?" was the kvetch I heard repeated), but there could be no mistake:  the Occupiers were on the way out.  They pulled up their tents.  They packed up their gear.  KBOO was gone.  The kitchen was dismantled.

Big police presence
Police were everywhere.  They clustered around the camp while city workers dragged debris to the curb along 3rd Street.  Wooden pallets, tarps, litter.  Dump trucks hauled it all away.

Lots of garbage
Tension was low.  But it's not as if there ever was much tension between the Occupiers and authorities.  The only tension I ever experienced in the camp occurred at nighttime when mentally-unstable vagrants wandered about, producing a low-level menace with their ranting and behavior.

"Joseph or Tequila, whichever you like" holds court
I had my eye out for Occupiers I'd met personally over the weeks.  But I saw only the young man from Cinncinati, "Joseph or Tequila, whichever you like."  He sat on a bench in the middle of the disintegrating camp, surrounded by people who looked to be curious Sunday strollers (like me).  They asked questions and listened to him describe life in the camp.  "We were a family," he said.

I noticed his use of the preterite tense.  "So they know it is over, too," thought I.  "So much for Jim Oliver's 'we intend to stay' remark." 

Dismantled kitchen
No one should expect message discipline from the Occupy movement, of course.  But when a clarion call proves to be false and empty, credibility suffers. 

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish chatting with local news

One hour to go

That night, after viewing the new Clint Eastwood flick (more about that in a future post), Maty suggested we drive by the Camp to see how things were progressing.

Maty and the cops
We arrived downtown about 10pm.  Traffic (both cars and pedestrians) was thick around the camp.  The cops had erected light towers and the entire Chapman/Lownsdale area was lit up like a high school football field on game night.

"Let's go look!" Maty said, to my utter astonishment.

We scored a lucky parking space on Taylor, then walked back.

The camp was chock full of people.  A discerning eye could see, however, that most of them were spectators --weekend revelers, come to see the show.  Many of the Occupiers were already gone.
A crowd gathers as midnight approaches
Maty and I went to a nearby restaurant and ate a late supper, then went by the camp again.  The clock read 11pm and the crowd was growing.  Growing and getting louder.  But there was still no tension.  I saw a young woman with a sign that read "Be peaceful.  Be gentle."  Neither cops nor demonstrators wanted trouble.  The rowdiest elements were the Saturday Night clubbers, well into their cups, who stood by and hoped for some live entertainment.

"Nothing is going to happen," said I.

"The police just wait two or maybe three hours, then everyone gonna go home," Maty said.  She chuckled.

What now?

So now the demonstration is over.  Or almost over.  As I write, media reports (CNN, no less!) indicate that some holdout elements of the Occupation have moved to Pioneer Square.  Whatever.  It's over.  Let's move on, Portland.

I want to express particular gratitude to City Police.  They've been great throughout the whole ordeal.  Respectful and reassuring and competent.  Good to see.  The force has come a long way since the Vera Katz days.

The Occupy Portland demonstration may be over, but hopefully the movement will live on.  Effecting change, reforming entrenched power structures, is surely not easy.  But squatting in public parks is not the ticket.  That tactic succeeded in capturing public attention. It may have helped achieve political victories in last week's off-year elections.  It may have played a role in Bank of America's decision to nix their plan for a usurious new fee.

But the tactic is not sustainable.  It's been an expensive demonstration for Portland tax-payers, between the overtime pay for Portland's finest and the costs of rehabilitating Chapman/Lownsdale.  Tax-payers are the 99%.  The very people the movement purports to represent.

The movement needs new methods of expression.  Find a way to make things expensive for irresponsible corporations.  Find a way to stick it to the Man, not the tax-payer.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Occupy Portland - Mayor Adams draws a line

Police Chief Reese stands by as Mayor Adams announces a deadline for protesters to evacuate Chapman/Lownsdale
Yesterday, Mayor Sam Adams laid it down for the Occupy Portland protesters:  At 12:01 am on Sunday, November 13, the City intends to clear Chapman/Lownsdale.  Protesters must leave or face arrest.

The mayor cited the increase in crime around the encampment as justification for his decision. Disturbing events over the past several days (drug overdoses, an attempted arson) provide strong evidence in support of the mayor's reasoning.  Quoth he:  "Crime, especially reported assaults, has increased in the area. Occupy has had a considerable time to share its movement's message with the public but has lost control of the camps it has created."

He continued:  "I want to make clear: this action is not an action against the Occupy Portland movement ... My hope is [the movement] will flourish in its next phase ... with a focus on economic justice, not Port-a-Potties and tents."

I agree with the mayor's decision.  I've been to the camp quite a few times.  And as I've said from the beginning and in spite of my sympathy for the cause, the protest as it exists is unsustainable

Little Beirut loves itself some left-wing causes and I'm as down with it as anyone.  But, rather than an active, organized protest, the Occupy camp has become a magnet for street derelicts and mentally-deranged homeless people.  The flimsy, improvised camp infrastructure is overwhelmed.  Sanitation and safety deteriorate apace.

I don't doubt that there will be trouble when Chief Reese and his officers move in on Sunday morning.  But I'm hoping that the responsible protesters (and there are responsible protesters) have the wisdom to recognize that the current tactic, setting up tents in the park across from City Hall, is not working.  At least, not here in Portland.

By all means, let's keep this Occupy movement alive.  It is drawing much-needed public attention to the economic injustices that are throttling the common people.  But there has to be another way.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Somebody please give Rick Perry a clue

What more must the man do?

Man, oh, man!  Nobody but nobody knows how to put his foot in his mouth quite like Rick Perry.  Over the years, he's pulled some good ones.

Remember his asinine remarks back in 2009, when he hinted that Texas might choose to secede from the United States?  Remember when he fumbled his chance to fake outrage at Michelle Bachmann when she suggested that he was beholden to his political contributors?  (Imagine that!)  And what does it say about the man that he wasn't able to puzzle out that, since he was running for president, you know, he might want to get rid of that big stone at the entry to his ranch with the word "Niggerhead" etched into it?

These kinds of flubs aren't so much character flaws (well --except for the stone on the ranch) as they are just plain dumb mistakes.  I couldn't have imagined that there was any Republican politician who could make Newt Gingrich seem discreet.  But, by God, the Rickster has done it. 

I can see how Perry believed his Texas fast-talk might actually take him all the way through the Republican convention.  I mean, when the competition is that bad (Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich) the target seems pretty fat.  And besides, Republicans have an amazing propensity to line up behind almost anyone who can spout folksy homespun adages that sound wise in spite of their underlying inanity.  (Junior BushSarah Palin?)

But after last night's Republican presidential debate on CNBC, if there is anyone who cares about Rick Perry (you know, with --like --feelings), he or she ought to stop the man.  For his own good.  Check this humiliating meltdown that occurred in an exchange with Ron Paul.

Painful.  And yet, this morning, Rick was on the early news shows vowing that his campaign will continue.  "This ain't a day for quitting nothing," he drawled.

It's true that ambition often outstrips ability. And Perry definitely exudes the air of someone who, once he gets a notion into his head, is going to run with it no matter what anybody says.  I mean, with a guy like that, you've clearly got to let him play himself out.  But, the time has come, has it not?

Isn't there anybody close to Rick Perry that cares enough about the man to get him to shut his mouth?  His wife, maybe?  His chief-of-staff?


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

GOP gets an off-year whipping

Populism on the rise
If there remain any Republicans who have not, as yet, drunk the toxic, hallucinatory brew served up by the Tea Party, yesterday's nationwide off-year elections ought to serve as a red-flag warning.  To wit:  Union-busting, regressive tax cuts, voter suppression, and harsh social engineering measures aren't components for a winning political platform.

All across the nation, voters rejected reactionary policies, laying some good ol' populist paste on Republicans, who only 1 short year ago, strutted like bantam cocks prematurely counting their 2012 electoral chickens.
  • In Maine, voters rejected the Republican state legislature's attempt to ban same-day voter registration, which has been in place for 40 years.  Republicans know well that low voter turnout is good for the GOP, and they acted aggressively to make it harder for Mainers to participate.  Yesterday, voters executed the "people's veto" on the move in a stinging rebuke.

  • In Mississippi, voters killed an initiative, aimed at restricting abortion rights, that would have legally defined "personhood" as beginning at the moment of conception.  In Mississippi, no less!  Good ol' boy Haley Barbour, the state's Republican governor and a (supposed) anti-abortion advocate, expressed doubts about the initiative, which may have helped to kill it.  When a guy like Haley Barbour is uncomfortable with an anti-choice initiative, it is a sure indication that something is amiss.  (I've always said that the GOP does not truly want to overturn Roe versus Wade.  They need it to keep their base riled up.)

  • The sitting majority leader in the Arizona state senate, Republican Russell Pearce, who wrote that state's unconstitutional and xenophobic anti-immigrant law, was defeated in a recall election.  An historical first and a personal humiliation for Pearce.

  • And the big fight in Ohio:  a referendum to strike down a law passed by the Republican state legislature and championed by Ohio's Republican governor, John Kasich.  The law curtailed bargaining rights for public employees.  It was the legislative centerpiece of Kasich's administration.  That fight went overwhelmingly against the governor.  By a two-to-one margin, Ohioans voted in favor of unions and collective bargaining.  (As one internet wag put it:  "Who'd've thought that attacking police, teachers, and firefighters would be unpopular?  Stay oblivious, Republicans.") 
Catchin' on, stupe?
So, with these decisive results, progressives can feel a little better about our nation's future. But only a little.  Because, remember, we have no friends in the White House.

President Obama will, no doubt, spin yesterday's results as a vindication of his policies and his administration, but that's just wishful thinking on his part.  These victories have come not as a result of his leadership, but in spite of it.  At every turn, Obama has not only accommodated the right-wing, but has promoted policies that have protected the oligarchy at the expense of the middle class.

How 'bout you, Mr. President?
If the results of yesterday's voting don't convince the President, at long last, that instead of impeding, he should maybe, you know, lead, I wonder if anything will.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Fall of a hero

Penn State's Joe Paterno
Sad day.

If you haven't already heard, Penn State University is being rocked by an horrific scandal of pedophilia and hush-hush campus politics.  The story revolves around Jerry Sandusky, long-time defensive coordinator for the university's iconic football program.  Sandusky is charged by Pennsylvania state authorities with sexually assaulting eight boys over the course of 15 years.

Two other university officials, Tim Curley (former athletic director) and Gary Schultz (Vice-President of Business and Finance) also face charges of perjury related to the scandal.

Right now, the question for Penn State and for the country is this:  Can the university's revered head football coach, Joe Paterno, survive the scandal?

From the New York Times:
At age 84 and with 46 seasons as the Penn State head coach behind him, Paterno’s extraordinary run of success — one that produced tens of millions of dollars for the school and two national championships, and that established him as one of the nation’s most revered leaders, will end with a stunning and humiliating final chapter.

Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator under Paterno, has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys across a 15-year period, and Paterno has been widely criticized for failing to involve the police when he learned of an allegation of one assault of a young boy in 2002. --Read the whole story here.  Or, if you've got the stomach for it, you can read the Grand Jury report here.
Paterno has been cleared of criminal liability. According to testimony before the Grand Jury, when Paterno learned of the problem in 2002, he reported it to Curley, fulfilling his legal responsibility.  And there the matter lay for 9 years.

Well, Paterno's response may have fulfilled his legal responsibility, but there is a gaping chasm between that and his moral responsibility.  For God's sake!  A child was raped in your locker room, coach!

I've admired Joe Paterno since my college days, when the Penn State Nittany Lions football team was a national icon in college sports.  Paterno's teams weren't like those of less reputable programs.  The graduation rate at his program was a model for all college sports.  The idea that the program might tolerate some of the criminal shenanigans that occur at other campuses was unthinkable.  "Success with honor."  That's the Penn State motto.

Just two weeks ago, Paterno became the winning-est coach in college football history.  That admirable achievement is now rendered meaningless.

Michael Tomasky, of the Daily Beast said it very well, in his excellent piece:
I occasionally think, with no small amount of fear: I believe that I am a moral person, but if I am confronted some day with a situation that requires real moral bravery of me, where I really have to choose, and it will hurt—would I do the right thing? None of us knows until that moment comes. But when it comes, it comes, and nothing you’ve done up to that point matters anymore. --Read the column here.
Coach Paterno, you failed.  It breaks my heart.  But you failed.  Step down.

Those poor boys...