What’s your band’s name?

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Watched the movie We Are the Best some time back.

I’ve found myself viewing all movies at home in the context of Netflix’s rating system. I rated this movie with 3 stars. This doesn’t quite do the film justice. I’m very glad I watched this movie, and probably would not have if it were a 3-star-on-Netflix-film. For pure entertainment value, though, I can’t justify the fourth star.

The story follows a pair of young teens in Sweden, who found their own punk rock band out of spite. They write a song “Hate the Sport,” with which they ultimately manage to start a minor riot. All very successfully punk rock.

What I’d say the film is really about is Sweden in 1982, particularly the welfare state and the poor. We can see the poverty in which these girls live and the State’s directed methods to provide for the poor. In particular, the lack of appeal of youth centers to disaffected young.

It’s also an interesting picture of punk rock in 1982. Sweden was hardly the center of any music scene, but can be seen as a microcosm of that time. This was the era of the “fanzine” and DYI. It was the end of the late-70s punk era, where the bands had become “big names.” The portrayal of the hierarchy of local bands reminds me of my own (non-punk) band aspirations of the time.

It also got me thinking of one aspect of that adolescent dream of Rock ‘n’ Roll fame – coming up with your band’s name. It’s certainly easier than coming up with your bands sound, or lyrics, or all the other necessary pieces of a successful musical venture. Somehow it seemed that all it would take was just the right band name, and all else could fall into place.

So what were some of mind?

Magma Rose – was actually a real band for me. Some acquaintances put it together for the purposes of a high school talent show.

Sex with Sheila – This was my go-to band name for the college years. An awesome name with a punk-rock feel that was not (nor still is) as far as I know already taken.

Manifest Destiny – My favorite pick from high school. I really didn’t think of it as having racist overtones. I guess I thought of it as more of a historical thing. Really. This one got snapped up not too long after, possibly because of its racist overtones.

Honorable Mention, The Four Skins. Another band invented for a high school talent show, although with almost no connection to myself. The members (heh) of the quartet were all on the swim team  and water polo team with me, and were (unlike myself) very competitive. They had shaved their heads for swimming championships at the end of the season, and so endeavored to slip their name past the gatekeepers. While at the time we all felt they were had so cleverly succeeded, it is highly unlikely that the teachers weren’t simply amused by the plausible deniability of the risqué moniker.

And just because it was so funny, another water polo teammate slipped the license plate “GONAD” past the DMV censors. Drove around with it until a sheriff’s deputy pulled him over and didn’t buy the explanation that “this is just what the DMV gave me.”

NATO versus Warsaw Pact, Vol. II, Part 2

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This is a Part 2 of a two part post. Start with Part 1 here, if interested. In the previous installment, I focused on a 1955 World War III scenario in Germany. This second part moves elsewhere in the world.

As a rule, I don’t like play a strategy game as I would a First Person Shooter. Running into a “gotcha,” then reloading and trying again and again may work for some types of games, it ruins the mood for me in a historical strategy game.

Part of the historical flavor is that, while we may study the situation in detail, the commanders at the time had none of that hindsight. So any surprise that they faced at the time, to the extent that the game can model it, will be a surprise for we players only the first time through. Add to that the unpleasantness of playing the same thing over-and-over again, trying to get it right… It’s usually better to expect a scenario to be a once-through affair.

One could make the counter argument that, as a military person, your real life counterpart has undergone training well beyond even the most dedicated gamer. He knows his own people and platforms inside and out and has also studied the enemy. He may well have spent more time in preparation for an operation than you’re going to spend on the entire game. In that way, playing and replaying a given scenario can be seen as an equivalent to the years of training and experience that precedes any battle.

Wherein I Completely Spoil The Surprise

At this point, I’m going to completely spoil the scenario Waller Takes Charge, from CMANO.

If not obvious from the intro, this one took me a few times to come close to getting right. And right from the get-go, I ran into a gotcha from the scenario maker (it’s a community-made scenario).

Briefly, the scenario places us in command of the Destroyer USS Waller, near Crete at the outbreak of World War III. Quite a bit of nastiness has preceded, leaving us in command of the air wings of the USS Intrepid. We are given the base at Souda Bay, on the northern coast of Crete, and tasked with finding the remaining Soviet ships in the Mediterranean, which are estimated to include a cruiser and at least two submarines.

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Nuked! That can’t be good for morale.

The opening gotcha is that, while I am concentrating on figuring out what assets I’ve got and what I’m going to be able to do with them, unbeknownst to us all (well, if you haven’t been reading this, that is), the Soviets have a flight of four Tu-4 Bulls armed with nukes headed towards the airbase.

My first time through, I sent all my planes back to base, except for a mix of fighters and surveillance, which I sent to provide cover over the Waller and her sister ship DDE Cony. It wasn’t at all clear to me how much fuel I had, and I didn’t want to risk any losses through stupidly stranding my planes too far from my new base. It didn’t help that the planes were constantly complaining that I didn’t seem to know what I was doing, given that they’d already been given the “Return To Base” order at game start.

Is there a commander alive that, at the outset of hostilities, not only fail to provide a defensive fighter patrol over his own base, but ensure that all his available aircraft are unavailable, due to refueling and rearming? That’s essentially what I was doing, and the scenario is designed to punish the play for focusing on the goal but ignoring defense. At the start of the scenario, there is already a flight of inbound Tu-4 “Bull” bombers, armed with nukes, headed for the base. With no defense, it is an instant loss, even before the start.

Doing It Right

Having failed so obviously, it didn’t feel wrong at all to load up the game from the beginning and take the appropriate precautions.

Having done so (and having stopped the threat at the cost of a few fighters), it struck me that this was another easy scenario to throw together in IL-2.

As always, it surprises me when I achieve essentially the same result in IL-2 as I’ve just seen in CMANO. In this case, I was generally able to take out the incoming bombers, although generally losing 1 or 2 fighters in the process. It took me a couple play-throughs, but ultimately I managed to take out the incoming bombers and land my plane back on Crete.

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Taking down one of the bombers with my FJ-3 Fury.

The maps, complete with airbases, are all available. A little searching can spruce up the basic models with nice paint jobs. However, the one piece of the CMANO scenario I could not bring over: in the larger battle, I was using a mix of FJ-3 Furies and F2H-2 Banshees to defend the base. The latter, unfortunately, is not available in the jets package that I’m using. So my defense was all three defenders being FJ-3s.

boom

That wasn’t very sporting. As a last flip of the finger, the dying bomber unloads its nuke. They didn’t do that in CMANO

As far as I can tell, my fighter losses in CMANO to the Tu-4 attack were all from the Bulls’ defensive gunnery. That was also true in IL-2; Approach the bombers to slowly, especially from the lower rear, and I’d find myself riddled with bullet. However, in every attempt I also lost either my plane or my wingman’s to the nuclear blast of the bomber discharging its ordnance before crashing. It makes me wonder if that was actually doctrine, either from the Soviets or the U.S.? Particularly during the 1950s when the fallout fear was less than later decades. In this particular scenario, I guess it is smart. A bomb detonated over open sea has little effect except to take out one or two enemy planes.

But I Digress

Having successfully defended my base, I tried again to focus on the mission and find the Russian subs. Once again, I was caught in another stupid mistake due to lack of attention. While I was focused on directing my air units, the Waller and the Russian counterpart drifted into range of each other and began firing. While initially panicked, I realized that I was, by far, getting the better of the situation. Unfortunately, what I didn’t watch for is that the enemy cruiser, while farther away, had a longer range on her guns, which were also considerably more deadly than the destroyer gunnery.

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Found you! I’ve managed to pick up the location of the Soviet Cruiser Kuybyshev and it’s Destroyer escort. Those are my two destroyers, in blue. The green is neutral merchant shipping. It wouldn’t do to nuke them.

That prompted another reload. This time through, I concentrated on making sure I could bring everything to bear simultaneously against the Kuybyshev. I held my ships out of range until I had all my aircraft rearmed, and then moved in closer to hopefully support the results of my air attack. That’s when I found out several other pieces of information, (which a responsible commander would have known up front) the hard way.

Regular bombs (unless they are coming from enemy planes against your own ships, apparently) are fairly ineffective against moving ships. The only damage I seemed to do was with my final attack run where I used rockets. Also, the Soviet ships have a speed advantage. Keeping just out of range when the Russians want to close is not an option. Finally, the Egyptians, neutral at the start of the scenario, have an unexpected way of negating our air superiority.

Time for another reload.

At this point, I’m going to give this scenario a break. This reminded me how difficult many of the CMANO scenarios could be – in some cases puzzle-like in their solution. From the orders, one would assume a superiority in forces would be required to accomplish them. However, without some clever planning, the superiority may actually be with the enemy. It may be that only careful application of your available weapons, in just the right time and place, will allow you to overcome the otherwise impossible mission. Yes, this is an interesting problem for the commander. But it is less interesting if the nature of the threats, and the thus the combination of tactics to defeat them, is only know through multiple playthroughs.

As I started out, I find that frustrating in a strategy game.

Other Armies, Other Fronts

Just so I’m not left with no accomplishments, I also took on a another Steel Panthers scenario. This one, titled “Assault Gun Support,” imagines that World War III has spread in the opposite direction, to the north. The scenario is a counter attack with Swedish infantry support by assault guns against the Soviet aggressors (also supported by assault guns).

As always, fairly enjoyable gameplay. Also, as usually happens, I make my share of dumb mistakes. This time, I lost nearly all of my assault guns in the opening minutes. But the difference is I don’t feel the need to reload and restart just to make it through the scenario. I can live and learn, and maybe accept that I coulda/shoulda/woulda done better than that draw, without having to whittle away at the scenario until I “beat” it.

 

NATO versus Warsaw Pact, Vol. II, Part 1

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There were any number of triggers that could have started World War III, but didn’t.

In the mid-1950s, Western Germany was released from its occupation by the Western Powers, became an independent country (from the East), and joined NATO. The Korean War, throughout, threatened to escalate beyond the borders of that peninsula. Throughout Soviet occupied Eastern Europe, independence movements hoped for Western intervention that might help them in facing down the Soviets.

Of course, Western leaders were well aware of the risks. While working to check Soviet aggressions, the still tried to tread softly so as not to launch a Third World War, probably nuclear, when the world was struggling to recover from World War II.

The flashpoint of any confrontation between the two superpowers was between East and West Germany. Having crushed the Germans in their “Patriotic War”, the Russians believed that they had earned German spoils of war. They also believed that, were the promise of a democratically-driven reunification of Germany honored, they could win the political game and install a Socialist government in a combined East/West German vote.

Throughout the duration of the Cold War, the parameters of armed conflict remained the same. The forces of the Warsaw Pact had the advantage in numbers, but not in time. If the Soviets did win World War III in a quick strike, they would be drawn into (at best) a conflict of attrition with little to gain at the end of it. The United States would be able to shift forces to Europe to bring the conflict back into balance, and in the long run, would bring to bear its massive industrial capacity that supplied the Soviets in the second world. If truly threatened, the West might respond with its nuclear capability.

Given the numerical superiority of the Soviet ground forces, the location and nature of the initial battles also remained constant. The West would have been foolish to assault a numerically superior force, so one imagined the opening of the war with NATO on defense. The heavily mechanized forces of the Soviet Union would need suitable terrain if they were to rapidly advance across German. Two likely avenues of advance presented themselves, the flat areas in Northern Germany (North German Plain) and the area of woods and farmlands near Frankfurt, called the Fulda Gap.

Fulda Gap

I start, as I so often do, with a TOAW scenario. In this case, the Fulda 55 scenario that shipped, again, as part of the original TOAW package.

At first glance, the scenario is pretty much a reprise of the Patton 45 scenario that I wrote about earlier. The size and scale are identical; 5km hexes and 1 turn per day. While the location, obviously, has moved, the terrain itself is similar; farm and forest land broken up by some cities and rivers. But at this scale, its mostly a large, rectangular map with scatter terrain features. In fact, the scenario was designed by the same person, Doug Brevard.

As war breaks out, the Soviets easily dominate the skies and are on the attack with a huge force superiority. Playing, once again, as the U.S. (NATO has U.S. and West German forces, the latter using U.S. equipment), the play seems to be to strategically give ground while waiting for reinforcements. For the player who is really into the “study” of a hypothetical battle between Fulda and Frankfurt, the fine details of the terrain may add to the experience, as a one off the difference between Germany and Czechoslovakia are not game-changing. The “flavor” is the possession, by both sides, of both chemical and nuclear weapons and the possibility that the “high command” will bring those into play. Of course, given that, to the modern mind, any use of weapons of mass destruction is a loss for mankind, this too doesn’t seem a huge factor.

Playing through, the result was much as I expected. The game play was very much a repeat of the Patton 45 result.This time, the position of the rivers made my strategy work a little smoother. I blew all the bridges, defended the river crossing and waited for reinforcements to arrive. At that point, I had air superiority and was able to isolated and eliminate the enemy.

fulda-551

The tide is about to turn

I’ve said it before, I’ve nothing against an easy scenario. But also as I talked about before, it was the lack of unique features that made this one fall flat. At this scale and time frame, I don’t see much game play difference substituting M46s for Panzer Vs.

I did throw together a IL-2 scenario and, even accounting for my own incompitance behind the stick, I don’t see how this army could gain air superiority fielding F89s and F94s against MiG 19s.

fulda-171

Again, a present-day map of the area depicted in the scenario show the landscape has a little more character than what you might get from the game.

Tank Tactics

Also, as before, it’s the Steel Panthers scenarios that provide the fun.

First, at this level, there is a unique feel to the time period. It is definitely different than World War II, matching Soviet and U.S. Technology of the 1950s. It is also not Korea. The Communists, here, have access not to surplus, but the best technology that they can field (arguably superior to what the U.S. is fielding). A very different feel than the numerically superior but technologically inferior Koreans and Chinese.

The most obvious to me was the vulnerability of armor to infantry at close range.

germ1

I think I messed up. I quickly advanced into this village to grab a good defensive position and, instead, ended up getting my armor into a knife fight with the Soviets. Just look at that mess.

In this scenario, I made what was probably a major mistake from the get go. It was a meeting engagement so I moved my (roughly a) company-sized mechanized infantry unit, with one platoon of tanks in the lead, into the village (pictured) to try to establish a good defensive position. I was a bit surprised by, and quickly suffered heavy losses from, the superior capabilities of the Soviet tanks and the effectiveness of the RPG teams. Having pretty much lost all my armor, I was forced on the defensive, where my own bazookas took out all the Soviet armor. The battle resulted in a draw.

As a note of comparative interest, the equipment is very different when comparing the TOAW scenario to the Steel Panthers scenario. Most obviously, the German mechanized infantry in TOAW are outfitted with M59 APCs and Saracen armored cars, not the halftracks and M8s of Steep Panthers.

It’s Medium, but is it happy?

One of the more innovative and intriguing games of the last decade is the Command Ops engine from Panther Games. The system made its debut in 2002 with Airborne Assault: Red Devils Over Arnhem. The game, as indicated by the title, allowed the player to assume command of the British airborne forces (The Red Devils) in the fight to take and hold the Rhine bridge at Arnhem during operation Market Garden. The scale was operational, but much finer grained than the typical hex-and-counter operational game, but still not down in the well-trodden weeds of tactical combat simulation. The game had some significant

Amid much consternation, the game moved from Airborne Assault publisher Battlefront to Matrix Games where it was enhanced and re-released as Highway to the Reich (HTTR) in 2003. While purchasers of the original game were angered about having to rebuy the game they already owned, the new title was both improved and expanded. Playable forces now included American, British and German ranging the entire length of the contested route and multiple river crossing that characterized that battle, included both paratroop and armored forces.

Under the Matrix banner, Panther continued releasing follow-ons in the series. 2006 saw the availability of Conquest of the Agean, looking at some neglected battles. In particular, the German airborne assault on Crete and the conquest of Greece. In 2010, they returned to the tried and true, releasing Command Ops:Battles from the Bulge (BFTB). With the amount of improvements that had gone into the engine, they re-released their original two games as expansions to BFTB.

The system broke new ground with regards to AI, particularly for the player’s own side. Commands could be given at the highest level, leaving the AI to plan and execute using available forces. The game could be played either with such minimal interact, or commands could be issued at the company level (the individual icons) for a more traditional interaction. An innovative “fog of war” system, which allows the player no information about enemy units not spotted also added to the unique feel. Finally, rather than a hex-and-counter system, the game uses an extreme fine grid and clock to approximate continuous time and movement. With that, the units are represented by square icons, but their actual battlefield footprint and simulated.

Another notable feature of Command Op: Battles from the Bulge was that is was released with virtually every aspect of the game open to the user. Previous version had limitations which restricted modding or user-made scenarios to similar locations and/or forces as the released game. In BFTB, users could add any map, any set of forces, and any timeframe. The limitation of its modelling capability was only the scale and the scope of tactics within the game. User made scenarios appeared across the spectrum of the War in Europe, notably adding modelling of the Eastern Front.

Livin’ in the 50s

One obvious route for expansion for user-mods is into the early years of the Cold War. The U.S./Russian or NATO/Warsaw Pact forces are largely upgraded versions of what used in the Second World War. Particularly as this game, in both BFTB and HTTR occur late in the war and, for the British and American forces, already represent end-of-war development. For the Soviet side, the Eastern Front mods have been created. It should be a fairly straightforward exercise to meld the two together, eliminate the Germans, and create a U.S. versus Russia, or some combination of their client forces.

As I said, the limitations on modding are that straying outside what the core engine can do means that the modelling could well fall apart. Obviously recreating recent battlefields would be a problem – helicopters, drones, and real-time satellite imagery weren’t part of the World War II battlefield. Another area, though, that has been a problem for the system is mechanized operations. The original game was designed for the paratrooper battles, and all three battle iterations focus on major airborne battles. Initially this meant neglecting the finer points of mounted infantry wasn’t an issue.

I’ll expound briefly. In a more traditional operational game, motorized or mechanized infantry can account for the transports simply as modifications to the movement factor (and maybe combat as well, depending on what’s modeled). No need to think in detail about the transition from mounted movement to deployed combat, except possibly to model the reduced effectiveness during transition. Where are all those trucks when the infantry is dug in and defending a position? Somewhere else in the hex, one would imagine. It isn’t that important. In a tactical game, the transports are included explicitly. You dismount your soldiers, and then actively must move the transports to where you want them. Want to use transports again? You’d have to move them back. But this series has a problem. The individual position of the troops are modeled, but not explicit. So where are those trucks? It became a very tricky simulation problem within the engine.

In any case, one would expect to be able to find battles worth modeling (either real or imagined) in the first-or-second post-WWII decades that are close enough in tactics to be doable.

While there was and continues to be expressions of interest in both Cold War Europe and the Korean War, concrete effort has been a bit thin on the the ground. The one exception is a BTFB scenario with mid-1950s “estabs” (the available order of battles for included forces) for both the U.S. and Soviets.

This is Belgium, not Germany

The scenario’s designer used the Onhaye map. In the context of the original Bulge game, this is a hypothetical scenario that imagines the Germans have advanced so far as to establish a bridgehead across the Meuse River, and the allies must push them back. In a 1955 scenario, one might imagine a similar struggle over river crossings taking place in Germany or Czechoslovakia. Similar battles happened in my TOAW game, above, although the Meuse is a considerably bigger obstacle than the Fulda.

Without digging into the details with the scenario editor, the point of this scenario seems to be roughly-equal forces fighting over the center of the map, with plenty of time to duke it out. The upgraded equipment isn’t terribly noticable, although it probably shouldn’t be at this scale.

This is a game that really combines the big picture with the details. Terrain, timing, distance – these things are all critical. It’s not like the higher operational scale where the difference between a “clear hex” and a “rough hex” are the combat and movement factors. This makes it great for fighting specific historical battles where the significance of these features are known. Of course, a tactical level game could be the same way. The difference is, this game won’t tally up the score after 45 minutes. Being able to rest your troops over the day/night cycle, keeping appropriate reserves – these are the factors you need to be thinking about. An attack may be planned and executed over several days, if that’s what it takes to get all your forces into position and ready.

bulge

Defending the Meuse, or Fulda, or some River, in any case. It’s just after midnight, and the Russkies have squeezed into a gap in my lines with 15 T-54s. This is going to be a long, unpleasant night.

This is both a boon and a curse when trying to play a pure hypothetical engagement. Yes, the level of detail will let you look at true what ifs, with some sense that the emergent details have meaning. On the other hand, without an actual historical account to guide you, where do you start with a battle location. Game maps are on the order of a couple hundred square kilometers. But why would the U.S. forces decide to face of the Soviets in this particular map square?

The questions become important because, with the required detail of these maps, it is quite an investment to realistically model your selected battlefields. Conversely, with the modeled terrain being such an important factor, fighting on “generic” terrain is going to be less than satisfying.

Overall this level of play is a more satisfying experience than the next level up Operational Game (the Fulda 55 scenario in the first part of the article). I’m not sure I’ll want to dig too deeply into this mid 50s timeframe, but I may find another excuse to come back to this game and its editors. While the NATO/Warsaw Pact technology is probably quickly racing ahead of the engine’s bailiwick, there may be some scope going forward for the 2nd and 3rd world conflicts, such as the Middle East.

Continue on to Part 2 of 2 here.

 

 

 

Policiais Especiais

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Continuing on with my expiration-based consumption of Netflix, I watched Elite Squad: The Enemy Within last night.

I probably wouldn’t have watched it if I had known that, in the original Portuguese, it is called Tropa de Elite 2 – O Inimigo Agora é Outro. Meaning, I was watching it without the benefit of watching Elite Squad 1. In fact, the director considers it to the be third part of a trilogy, starting with the documentary Bus 174.

The three films are critiques of the government’s actions which help to create and sustain poverty. Having not seen the first two, I’m left to take the third one on its own.Ostensibly, the film is action/crime thriller, narrated by the commander of the “Elite Squad,” a SWAT-like force called the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE). His view is from the anti-drug, pro-law-and-order perspective and the enemy, he states from the outset, is the leftist agitators and politicians who enable the drug dealers.

In many ways, I was reminded of an article about Robocop that I had just read. While the BOPE’s members and tactics are played straight, the politicians and other corrupt officials are played humorously. Elite Squad is a lot more transparent, however, and it didn’t take me too long to see that the movie’s perspective differed from that that of the narrator. It may have been even a faster transition had I already seen the original Elite Squad.

The film was immensely popular in Brazil and has been critically acclaimed here in the U.S. However, for the American (norte) viewer, without the context in Brazilian politics, it probably doesn’t have the depth and complexity that made it so popular at home. It is still and entertaining and funny action movie.

Possibly on par with Robocop.

Nom du jour

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How many readers use Netflix?

I wonder how many of you end up watching Netflix the way I do.

Each month, I look at the movies and TV shows that Netflix is removing from their offerings, and bump them to the top of my queue. It becomes not a matter of what I most want to watch, but what to watch before the opportunity goes away.

I have this suspicion that Netflix deliberately tries to obscure the number of shows that they take off of their offerings. Once upon a time, it used to be obvious. All the shows were organized in your own queue, and you could see their disposition from there. Now, the Netflix interface emphasizes browsing what they have, rather than looking for what you’d like them to have. One very useful site I’ve found is this, showing all the shows coming off of Netflix.

This also plays into one of the other oddities that I’ve settled into for watching Netflix. Since I’m watching a lot of, basically, lower interest shows and movies I tend to watch them in manageable chunks. A little every weeknight. A movie is no longer an event for me, it’s something I’ll watch over the course of a week, maybe a half hour at a time. A recent Saturday night, where we sat down to actually watch a movie, I found myself about 45 minutes in thinking about whether it was time to call it quits for the night. Strange habits.

Now, one of the shows that has been on my Netflix list for quite some time is Carlos. It is a dramatization of the “career” of Carlos the Jackal, a communist terrorist of the 1970s and 80s.

I vaguely remember the capture and trial of Carlos the Jackal being in the news. What actually perked my interest is the name “The Jackal” and the use of the nom de guerre in the Fredrick Forsythe book The Day of the Jackal. I loved that book as a teen and wondered about the connection between the fiction and the history.

That said, the show just didn’t peak my interest enough that I would actually watch it. It was also a mini-series, which is always a strike against. So it went, always sitting in my queue but never rising to the top, until Netflix decided to pull it.

Carlos

Of course, Carlos the Jackal bears little resemblance to the contract assassin of the story. Carlos was an ideological terrorist, a Marxist, who was in the employ of the Palestinians. In fact, it was the popularity of that book that likely resulted in Carlos using the name. Apparently, when, in 1975, he was initially sought for the killing of two French policemen, a Guardian reported was tipped off to one of his hideouts. Among Carlos’ belongings, the reporter saw a copy of The Day of the Jackal, and used the connection as a colorful reference in their story the next morning. Reportedly, the book did not actually belong to Carlos at all, but rather to the informer whom he had just murdered, and whose apartment he shared. Carlos may not have liked the book, but he did seem to like the sound of it – Carlos the Jackal – and continued to use the name over the next 20 years.

The show itself is extremely compelling. It is a joint German/French production and is in the whatever language is appropriate for the characters. Often English, as the modern Lingua Franca, but also French, German, Arabic dialects, and even a little Russian (from Yuri Andropov no less). It was made as a TV miniseries, but also was shown at Cannes as a 5 1/2 film.

This show is several notches above what I’d expect for a made-for-TV quality production. It is very well put together, combining conversational settings with well-done action scenes, and period new reports. There is the occasional transparent special effect, but by and large it all fits together very well. The soundtrack is also excellent, featuring period-appropriate punk and new wave songs.

Besides the language, the other hint that it is other than American-made is the full-frontal male nudity. That would be a huge no-go for American movies and absolutely would not feature in American TV. I’ll leave the pontificating about the sensibilities of Europe versus the United States, but a dick doesn’t ruin my enjoyment.

One criticism this production faces was that it glorified and glamorized the life of a terrorist and a murderer. Perhaps it does, to an extent. The life of Carlos, according to Carlos, had him as the hero and the savior of the common man, at the center of all the events of the world. The indulgence of the Communist and Arab nations helped encourage him in this thinking. A documentary might approach the subject by pointing out his side while emphasizing the facts. This show is not a documentary. The disclaimer at the beginning states clearly it should be viewed as a work of fiction, as the facts of the events portrayed are not actually established. I sincerely hope that we can accept that an audience is sophisticated enough to see the multiple levels within a portrayal of historical events. Some may feel we need to return to a strict diet of morality plays, so as to avoid inducing audiences toward the wrong kind of thinking. When did the world go so wrong?

Where did it go wrong?

Something I couldn’t help thinking about is the comparison between the terrorism of the 70s with the terrorism of today. I’m not old enough to think about that world as an adult, but despite the fact that terrorism seemed almost commonplace, I don’t recall the fear and calls for reaction that we have today.

It seems that although the world did less to keep us safe; fewer laws, less surveillance, less intrusion in everything from travel to purchases (even if the only reason was the lack of technology), there also seemed less of an eagerness to give up that individual freedom in exchange for the protection. Maybe the difference is that Europe was more central in the terrorism at the time, and the feeling was different there than in America.

Or maybe terrorists today just aren’t those crazy German communists of yesteryear. It’s true that we used to be able to count on a terrorists sense of self-preservation, something that doesn’t work with suicide bombers. And while the jihadis of today may be well trained, the major difference is that the West is giving them the training ground by funding wars in their back yard. Surely, the Arab nationalists of the 70s were well trained too. The miniseries shows that money was being thrown around, both from the Soviet Union and its friends and from the more radical Arab nations.

The difference might be today’s media, with instant exposure for every terrible thing. A bombing in France in 1978 was something that happened last week on the far side of the world. Now it is something that is happening now, on your phone wherever you are.

In some ways, it seems like this time around might not be quite as bad as the 1970s. Hard to say. But, as the events of 1989 and beyond should have taught us, this too shall pass.

Bombs Away

This is one of those shows, having sat on it for so long, I’m glad I finally watched it and wish I’d watched it early. I guess the combination of foreign release, subtitles and the “miniseries” label keep it off people’s radar. It really deserves a look.

Referenced:

Carlos (TV miniseries)

The Day of the Jackal (book)

The Day of the Jackal (film)

Burp

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If a seventh grader starts trading fake burps for laughs in gym class, what’s a teacher to do? Order extra laps? Detention? A trip to the principal’s office? Maybe. But then again, maybe that’s too old school. Maybe today you call a  police officer. And maybe today the officer decides that, instead of just escorting the now compliant thirteen year old to the principal’s office, an arrest would be a better idea. So out come the handcuffs and off goes the child to juvenile detention. My colleagues suggest the law permits exactly this option and they offer ninety-four pages explaining why they think that’s so. Respectfully, I remain unpersuaded.

  • A.M. vs. Holmes, 830 F.3d 1123 (10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal) ; decided July 25, 2016.

An Unpitied Sacrifice in a Contemptible Struggle

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I’ve recently finished the second of two books on the Second World War. They both compliment each other and add to the understanding of that time in history, and what can happen when the world goes mad.

They are:

Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East, by Stephen G. Fritz and

Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945, by Max Hastings.

The titles, obviously, don’t entirely overlap. The first focuses on the War between Germany and Russia, although the impact of and on other fronts are included. The second deals only with the end of the war in Europe, starting of post D-Day and after the liberation of Paris.

Ostkrieg, perhaps evident in the title, focuses on the war from the German perspective. Recent access to the Soviet archives has prompted a wave of histories based on that new information. Fritz provides a counter point to that counter point, relying instead on secondary research as well as an effort by the now-reunited German government to document the war.

In Armageddon, the focus tends to lean a tad to the Western front, and even there a little bit toward the English (countrymen of the author).

Quality versus Quantity

Simply address the two books from a “rating” standpoint, both were worthwhile reads. Of the two, Armageddon does stand out for the quality of the writing. One frustration I did have with Ostkrieg is it had a repetitive quality, that may have benefited from a bit more editing. The presentation style was for the author to make a statement of opinion about a subject, and then back it up with quotations from (for example) someone present at the event in question. The problem is when there were multiple quotes on the same topic, the initial statement was often repeated. By contrast, Armageddon highlighted different points in paragraphs (or groups of paragraphs) and simply combined quotations on similar subject matter. It improved how easily the book read. Ostkrieg is also a rather hefty tome. I have to wonder if a little paring down might not have made the read a little quicker, but also shorter.

What it means to be “more evil”

Another contrast between the two books struck me as soon as I picked up Armageddon. First, I’ll take a step back.

The theme of Ostkreig is the centrality of the Eastern war to everything that Hitler did. Yes, the book details the battles themselves. This is the reason I picked it up in the first place; I was hoping for a overview of the war in the east that would help me put the battles, campaigns, and maneuvers into a larger perspective. The book does this well. But it actually starts at the very beginning, with Hitlers rise and rapid conquest in the West.

Another theme of Ostkreig is the limited prospects for the Third Reich in every winning their war. From the beginning, the odds were greatly against Hitler. He was held up as a genius for his gambles that overcame those odds, but if eventually losing it all was inevitable, its not a mark of a genius to keep gambling until you’re busted. One of the first insights I gained from reading this book was about what might have been in Czechoslovakia. When Hitler threatened that country, Czechoslovakia was by many accounts an even match. While Germany’s armies were slightly larger, Czechoslovakia had the advantage of both a defensive fight and the ability to devote their entire force to that defense. Germany would have needed to divert some portion of its forces to protect against intervention by other powers, particularly France. When it came to it, Czechoslovakia may have been able to field a numerically-superior force, modernized to roughly the same level as Germany.

German generals were aware of the problems in Czechoslovakia, and there was a plot to, at the start of hostilities with Czechoslovakia, overthrow Hitler and make a deal with England. Unfortunately for all of Europe, England decided to ignore this avenue and convinced Czechoslovakia to make a deal with Germany. That deal ensured that they would be unable to resist the next set of demands from Germany and emboldened Hitler in continuing his expansion into Poland.

The book argues that each step in Hitler’s expansion was part of the larger plan to conquer the Slavic nations to the East. Austria and Czechoslovakia were needed to gain a strategic advantage over Poland. There is some evidence that Hitler expected Poland to ally with him in the fight against the Soviet Union, as their generational animosity towards the Russian empire should have overcome any indignities heaped upon them by the Germans. Likewise, invading the low countries, France and England were all necessary, in Hitler’s mind, to free his armies to conquer the Soviet Union. He seemed to be genuinely surprised at their declaration of war and expected that the West would probably look the other way as Germany expanded and purged the world of the communists.

Along with this story, the book details how the elimination of the Jews became entwined with everything Hitler did. The eventual genocide almost appears to be something stumbled upon by Hitler and his minions. Initially, the goal of the Nazis was simply to rid Germany of all Jews. An early plan was to transport them all to Madagascar. Once war broke out, Germany’s isolation by sea prevent such transport, the next idea was simply to move them out of Germany into occupied territories. As this became a problem, the slaughter began – perhaps even unsystematically. There is evidence that the killing of the native Jewish population in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia as the German armies invaded the Soviet Union may have been driven by local commanders attempting to impress their superiors (and ultimately Hitler) with ever greater anti-Semitic zeal.

Ultimately, and through the repetitiveness of similar stories throughout the Eastern Front, the book exposes the pure evil of the Nazi regime. Each new story of massive killings is shocking and horrifying. Even though we all know the numbers, as the details of the killings are explored, somehow the horror boggles the mind anew. Likewise, the large scale planning to simply wipe out as many inhabitants of Eastern Europe as possible, simply because Germans need the food and that takes priority, is unfathomable to modern sensibilities. And yet, this is something happened within the lifetimes of people still alive today.

Particular emphasis is made on the fact that no portion of the German military can completely detach themselves from the slaughter, enslavement, and genocide that was going on as the Germans rolled into Russia. While it became an common explanation that the German soldier was not the S.S. and only fought the war, evidence from the front suggests otherwise.

Regarding the purely military aspects of the German invasion, the book generally portrays an army doomed from the start. From a purely numbers standpoint (food, fuel and time), the conquest of Russia was never going to be very likely. Add to that many simply bad ideas emanating directly from Adolph Hitler, and the portrayal of the German fighting machine is mainly of vain attempts to avoid the disaster that ultimately consumed them.

By contrast, Hastings begrudgingly admires the Germans for their fighting ability, and that contrast with the utter lack of value placed on human life by the Soviets and the perhaps over-cautiousness from the West to risk more now to save later.

In that discussion, it also becomes clear that Hastings considers Stalin and his empire the pure evil actor in this war. He doesn’t line up the evidence, as perhaps Fritz would have, but it is certainly a combination of Stalin’s treatment of his own people both before and during the war, the systematic mass-rape of Germany after Hitler’s defeat, and the misery inflicted upon Eastern Europe for a generation (and beyond) following the end of the war.

While it is certainly hard to imagine a worse evil that the Nazi’s meticulous attempt to exterminate an ethnic group from the face of the earth, if one goes purely by the numbers, Stalin and the Soviet Empire do win out over Hitler. If for no other reason, Stalin could continue his reign of terror after Hitler’s death. Stalin’s callousness to the lives of even his own people seem to be unmatched even by Hitler’s own death culture.

Hastings also describes the lack of appreciation on the part of the Allies for the danger of that the Russian’s would be after the end of the war. The pact with the Soviet’s seemed necessary to save England and the free world, but as the ultimate defeat of German became ever more inevitable, the West and particularly Roosevelt failed to plan for the future.

The Allies went to great lengths to inoculate their public against the negative image they held of the communists, once those communists were needed as allies. The reality of kindly “Uncle Joe’s” soldiers behavior came as a shock to many Americans and British, but was anticipated by those in the East. A particular quote stuck with me, where the Soviet’s use of the word “Allies” clearly meant the Western powers, not the Soviet Union. They saw enemies not only in the Germans, but in the American/British at the same time.

Strategy and Tactics

Both books are obviously written for the war-history buff, but both try to tell their stories within the bigger picture of politics and civilian suffering. Ostkrieg illuminates many of the battles around the German’s high water mark when, at least at first appearance, they had the possibility of victory. As I mentioned before, it is often pointing out the places where German strategic mistakes cost them dearly.

Armageddon starts too late in the war for there to be any doubt in the outcome; the defeat of the Germans. Two operations are explored systematically; the Airborne assault to take the Rhine bridge at Arnhem in operation Market-Garden, and the German operation Wacht am Rhein, or the Battle of the Bulge. Both, incidentally, are analyzed for their strategic blunders, but they also resulted in the last two times when the Anglo/Americans and Germans were matched on the battlefield.

In the reading of military history, I’m often struck by the feeling that victory goes to the General who screws up not quite as badly as his counterpart. Dwelling on any particular historical figure and his moments of incompetence probably obscures that all figures have human frailties that are bound to shine through when illuminated by close study.

On the Eastern Front, the Soviet effort was massively mismanaged, but the willingness to expend an unlimited amount of human lives was as much a feature of their strategy as it was an error to be criticized. Like Grant against Lee, once the willingness to win at all costs was there, the final victory seems assured. By contrast, the Germans needed to get everything right in order to win. So analyzing where they failed to get it right seems particularly relevant.

On the Western Front, the failure of the Allies to get things right is probably gets its focus due to the emphasis on the image of American superiority from sources such as Citizen Soldiers and Band of Brothers. Hastings posits that a free and generally peaceful culture, such as America’s, can’t be expected to produce the kind of armies the the totalitarian states were capable of. In one passage, he speculates on the effectiveness of a Patton leading and SS Panzer Army rather than American soldiers. His frustration is that Western timidity likely cost lives in the long run by prolonging the fighting, and definitely sacrificed civilian lives by not saving them from first, the Nazis, and later from Soviet occupation.

Thumbs Up

At the end, both of the books are thought provoking additions to the histories written of the Second World War, and we absolutely worth the time to read. There is plenty in here to think about, not only in the conduct of the war, but in the generation of turmoil in Eastern Europe that was to follow.

 

Quote

One Day…

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One day when the oil barons have all dripped dry
And the nights are seen to draw colder
They’ll beg for your strength, your gentle power
Your noble grace and your bearing
And you’ll strain once again to the sound of the gulls
In the wake of the deep plough, sharing.

Standing like tanks on the brow of the hill
Up into the cold wind facing
In stiff battle harness, chained to the world
Against the low sun racing
Bring me a wheel of oaken wood
A rein of polished leather
A heavy horse and a tumbling sky
Brewing heavy weather.

What’s So Great About Businesses?

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“We support small businesses,” says nearly every political party, organization, or candidate for office.

This sentiment crosses party lines and political persuasions, so we have to assume that such a phrase means different things to different people.  Indeed it does.  For some, it means reducing government, both in terms of red tape and funding (i.e. taxes).   For others, it means increasing government:  more training, more infrastructure, and more direct involvement with business practices and their employees.

In both cases, this increases the likelihood that one’s jurisdiction (State, Town, etc) will “attract” new businesses.  So why do we care?   Why are most of us who are concerned about policy so please when a new business comes to our town.

Well, new businesses bring three things.

  1. Create jobs.
  2. Generate economic activity.
  3. Provide goods and services.

Usually, when celebrating these benefits, it is in that order.  Politicians like creating jobs for their constituents.   Getting a new or better job definitely makes someone happy and, hopefully even, grateful.  Economic activity is touted, but that is harder to quantify. It means new taxes, surely, so that generally helps. It also often refers to things like construction, where identifiable projects (and countable jobs) are created, with the corresponding happy and grateful voters in tow. Naturally, we are also referring simply to incremental additions to the economy.These may be difficult to measure, much less perceive, unless the effects are very large. A major new manufacturing facility will result in a noticeable increase in restaurant receipts.  A new 10-person technology firm, not so much.

But what about #3?  It would generally be mentioned last, if at all.   In fact, this is sometimes even the con to the #1 and #2 pros.  A new national store “puts local stores out of business,” and so on.

But isn’t this strange.   Isn’t #3 what business do?   Isn’t this why we should like them?   Isn’t growing the economy all about “providing new and better goods and services?”

When our expectations, from anything, is different from the nature of that thing, aren’t we often setting our selves up for failure or, at the least, disappointment?