Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Last night, the two major party nominees squared off for the first general election debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

It was a highly unsettling affair.

My nutshell impression is that the debate went to Hillary.

Yes, she came across as cold --almost imperious. Yes, her attempts to loosen up (for example, her "Whew! OK..." response to a Trump rant) were calculated and insincere. No, she did nothing to solve her "likeability" problem.

And yet, she won.

Or so it seemed to me.

Trump, under-prepared and undisciplined as always, appeared unhinged. He constantly interrupted Hillary, attempted to wrestle control of the debate away from hapless Lester Holt, and tossed out word salad responses that were largely incoherent. Example:
HOLT: Why is your judgment -- why is your judgment any different than Mrs. Clinton's judgment?

TRUMP: Well, I have much better judgment than she does. There's no question about that. I also have a much better temperament than she has, you know?


I have a much better -- she spent -- let me tell you -- she spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an advertising -- you know, they get Madison Avenue into a room, they put names -- oh, temperament, let's go after -- I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament. I have a winning temperament. I know how to win. She does not have a...

HOLT: Secretary Clinton?

TRUMP: Wait. The AFL-CIO the other day, behind the blue screen, I don't know who you were talking to, Secretary Clinton, but you were totally out of control. I said, there's a person with a temperament that's got a problem.
Can anyone guess what he was trying to say here?

Trump's remarks ranged from ugly to downright destabilizing. For example, consider this:
TRUMP: And, number two, I said, and very strongly, NATO could be obsolete, because -- and I was very strong on this, and it was actually covered very accurately in the New York Times, which is unusual for the New York Times, to be honest -- but I said, they do not focus on terror. And I was very strong. And I said it numerous times.
One must wonder what governments in France, Germany and the United Kingdom must think when they hear the nominee of a major party in the United States cast doubt on NATO. With his cavalier, off-the-cuff remarks, Trump has managed to shake the stability of an alliance that has held together for 70 years!

Well, as I stated, I believe Hillary won the debate. But I'll be the first to admit that I'm not objective. To the husband of an immigrant, black, Muslim woman, and to a Mexican-American, Trump's rhetoric was alarming in the extreme. From my point of view, anyone who votes for Trump is expressing hostility toward me and my family.

But here's the rub: Trump's unscripted, cynical responses are right on the money for those who are already in the tank for him. This is what those people call "telling it like it is." Despite Hillary's seeming victory, the polls (which are tight as a drum) won't likely move very much.

As of this moment, it is unclear whether most voters will be motivated by hope or by fear. Fifty-six days to go, people. Let's see what happens.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Heart in Africa

A bygone moment of bliss
Cast adrift. Aimless and sad. Maty is half a world away.

I keep myself busy with friends. I focus on work. I take advantage of the liberties afforded by her absence.

But life is dreary.

Mundane tasks (laundry, preparing meals, cleaning) are devoid of importance now she is not here to remind me that I matter. If for no other reason than to love her.

I miss it all. Not only the laughter and the intimacy, but the silly disputes: what to watch on television? Where to go for dinner?

This bereavement is part of the price one pays when one is married to an immigrant. There are times when we must be apart.

She has people, half a world away, that she loves and must visit. And loving her, I must do what I can to help.

For her, it must be worse. There is nowhere in the world where she can be close to all the people she loves. Wherever she goes, she is separated by continents and vast oceans. It is this knowledge that keeps me from indulging overmuch in self-pity.

But today, and for the next several weeks, my heart is in Africa.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

ASL: Stalinié Prostori Campaign Game (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, again, ASL players. I present here another series of blog posts dedicated to the hobby that we all love so much. This time, my opponent is Stewart King, another of the former Berserk Commissars, and an old friend. We have a Gentlemen's Agreement that Stewart will not read my blog for the duration of our campaign game.

Stewart and I will be playing the Tactiques Campaign Game "Stalinié Prostori" (Plains of Steel) which depicts action during the Wehrmacht's Operation Citadel. That's right: the last great German offensive on the eastern front, and the biggest tank battle in history, commonly known as the Battle of Kursk. Stewart is commanding the evil Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler, 1st SS Panzer Division. I'll have the valiant V Guards Tank Army, striving to keep the very worst of the Wehrmacht from penetrating the defenses.

Readers are encouraged to comment! Do you see a weakness? Do you have a better idea for a tank trap? Proclaim it in the comments!

Thanks to Rodney Kinney for developing the VASL gaming engine which I've used to capture images.
A ferocious fight

I've never played this CG before, but one look at the respective OBs  reveals that both sides are "loaded for bear," as the saying goes. The Germans have a huge armored force and elite SS infantry, fully supported by artillery and air support. But my Red Army heroes have plenty themselves: elite infantry, ample artillery and air support, and a horde of tanks. The Russian tanks may not quite match the German armor, but after all, for the Russians this is a game of attrition. Whittle them down in anticipation of the final CG scenario where, hopefully, they will be drained and exhausted by the time they make their push for the village in the final scenario.

In order for the German to win the CG, he must capture a huge number of strategic locations (building locations, bridges, rubble, and level-2 hill hexes). In this initial scenario, most of the strategic locations are on the northern half of board 10 and on board 24. It seems to me that, with the German forces coiled like a spring for the initial assault, there is little chance of denying them the board 10 buildings, but I'll make him earn them. My hope is to prevent him from gaining the board 24 buildings and the the level 2 hill hexes on board 18.

So, with that in mind, here is what I came up with.

Here are my initial forces:

  • Guards Rifle Coy
    458 x 12
    9-2, 8-1, 7-0
    MMG x 2, LMG x 2, ATR x2, Lt. Mtr x 2
  • Guards Rifle Coy
    458 x 12
    9-1, 7-0
    MMG x 2, LMG x 2, ATR x 2, Lt. Mtr. x 2
  • Medium AT Battery (depleted)
    45LL ATG x 3
    228 x 3
  • Heavy Artillery
  • 40 Fortification Points
All in all, not too bad. My ATG battery is depleted, but I did score a 9-2 leader for one of my elite rifle companies. I have 12 CPP to spend. My purchases are these:
  • Guards SMG Coy
    628 x 10
    9-2, 8-1
    LMG x 2, ATR x 2
  • SP ART Battery
    SU 76m x 4
  • 40 Fortification Points
  • Sturmoviks (!)
This first group of purchases may set up on board. The Sturmoviks will be interesting. Since the Germans will undoubtedly have Stukas, we have the potential for aerial dogfights, something that I've never before experienced in ASL. But honestly, I suspect that as the game unfolds, I'll be more concerned with German armor than with trying to shoot down Stukas.

My 80 fortification points are allotted as follows:
  • ATM x 7
  • HIP vehicles x 4
  • HIP squads x 3
  • Trench x 3
  • ? x 13
Then there are my reinforcements (both purchased and allotted) that are set to enter on the northern board edge on Turn 3:
  • T70 Platoon
    T70 x 3
    9-2 AL
  • T34 M41 Platoon (Inexperienced)
    T34 M41 x 3
  • T34 M43 Platoon (Depleted)
    T34 M43 x2
    8-1 AL
  • T34 M43 Platoon
    T34 M43 x 3
Boxcars on my armor leader roll for the T34 M41s! Inexperienced crews! A big disadvantage. But at least it will simplify any future decisions about which tanks to sacrifice, should the need arise. (And I'm sure it will!)

Now a breakdown of my setup.

Board 10 Village

Units surrounded by a red square are HIP
Given the strength of the attacking force, the board 10 village seems destined to fall. But I aim to bleed the Germans in the taking. And the task of the leeching falls to my largely unsupported elite SMG company. The idea here is to lure the Germans into a street fight. I've placed hidden squads at various points that seem likely to afford street-fighting opportunities as the German tanks come rolling in. I fully expect the Germans will possess this village at the end of the scenario. But the units I've placed here will not attempt to escape. They're not under any illusions. No one will be seeing them in the chow line this night.

Western defenses

Units surrounded by a red square are HIP
Here, the objective is to place fire on the Germans as they emerge from the board 10 village and attempt to push further north. If the Germans push for the board 24 village, the crest-status infantry in hexes A9-C10 will use the gully to fall back toward the village.  The two hidden SU76 M artillery pieces will protect the infantry from being overrun, hopefully. And the 9-2 with his MMG stack will attempt to entrench, but he'll be prepared to fall back to the gully post-haste against a major German thrust. I'm hoping that the board 24 village will prove to be beyond the German tether.

Eastern defenses

Units surrounded by a red square are HIP
I've strung an AT mine field (1 factor each) on the near side of the forest road that goes through 16B5 and across the gap between the woods masses to the west (16C9 through 16F10). I hope that this gap will appear inviting to the German panzer commanders who might imagine that it will allow them to advance en masse rather than through choke points like the B5 road hex.

Woe upon them! When they hit the mines, I open up with the 45LL ATG (18E5), the 2 hidden SU-76M SPAs, and the infantry light mortars to the north. That minefield is Hot with a capital "H."

The 45LL ATG is emplaced on the forest road in 19X2, aimed at the open ground to the west. But his position allows for easy man-handling to 19X1 to guard against a German advance on Board 18 as well. The infantry in the area are there to place fire on the mine fields to the south and to protect the ATG against infantry.

The hill

Keep those binoculars clean, Comrade!
Besides being Victory Locations, the level 2 hill hexes on Board 18 offer a sweeping view of the potential German approach for my artillery observer who is entrenched and hidden in 18Y7. Not only can I see important locations on Board 16, there are some long lines of sight that allow for calling down some 150mm love on the big grain field on Board 33. I have a couple squads up there to protect the field phone observer.

Nein, Henrich! Not this way....
The idea with the artillery is to drop harrassing fire on the Germans in the early game, while they are massed up. With luck, this will strip off tank riders and impede the advance for his infantry, perhaps separating them from the advancing panzers. Anything I get beyond that one fire mission I'll count as gravy. Subsequent fire missions will drop concentration on whichever tanks are foremost.
...nor this!


My armor arrives on Turn 3 and will enter to confront any German breakthroughs. My tanks are outgunned and out-armored by the big Tiger tanks, but have an advantage in maneuver. The problem, of course, is that Stewart will have plenty of versatile STUGs and PzIVs to engage my tanks as I attempt to flank the Tigers. By the time we get to Turn 3, it will probably be apparent as to where they should deploy. I'll just have to wait and see.

So, there it is: The initial Russian defense in the Plains of Steel CG. Looking at my forces, I feel very strong. Stewart would seem to have a daunting task before him. let's see how it plays out!