Friday, November 23, 2007

Just a little holiday perspective

Something to think about while you’re sitting around today, still sort of druggy-acting from yesterday’s overdose of tryptophan-laden turkey and other goodies.

Last Saturday, after our big yard sale, the Missus and I loaded up all of the leftover stuff – books and warm clothing mostly – and trucked them over to the Salvation Army (this was before the tire went flat episode).

Not the Salvation Army thrift store, mind you. We took our stuff to the Salvation Army compound with their ‘soup kitchen’, emergency housing and other services. If you take the stuff to the thrift store, it gets recycled to the store where they sell it. That’s not a bad thing – Salvation Army gets the cash, duh. But we wanted the folks at the shelter to get first crack at the warm clothing, so that’s where we took it.

You want some perspective about your place in the scheme of things and a glimpse into how things are going here in the world’s richest country? Visit a Salvation Army shelter and kitchen at mealtime on the day after the season’s first serious cold snap. That’s how things are going.

Some years back, when the Missus and I used to help run Community with a Heart, we frequently delivered donations to the shelter – so the general scene wasn’t anything new. The benches and green spaces out front collect people (men mostly) sitting and smoking cigarettes - or just sitting. (The first time I visited the place, I wondered about the high rate of cigarette smoking, but then it occurred to me that people with good decision-making skills don’t typically end up at the Salvation Army shelter. )

Thanks to Compassionate Conservatism shifting our tax dollars from social services to Halliburton and Bechtel, more and more people who show up at shelters are folks who at one time would have been under some kind of taxpayer-subsidized psychiatric care. Some would be in-patients, but most would simply have access to out-patient benefits like counselling or prescription drugs in order to help them lead productive lives.

Right after a cold snap, the shelter’s population spikes. This time, there were more women and children eating at the kitchen than I’ve seen in the past. How much action do you think it can generate when word spreads that a couple of boxes of kids’ clothing have just arrived in the lobby?

One of the men who helped us cart all of the stuff into the building – a shelter client – was looking at the books we were leaving.

“That’s a lot of books,” he said. And then he looked up at me: “You know, most people think we can’t read.”

One of the images I took away was the sight of a middle-aged man combing through the books as we shuttled items into the lobby, putting a couple of books into a plastic bag and then walking off with a big smile. His haul: well-worn copies of “On Zen Practice” and “The Three Pillars of Zen”. I wish him well.

I’m not writing this to brag about our charitable donations. In fact, it’s a bit embarrasing that I originally considered we were dumping junk on the Salvation Army. It’s humbling that I required a reminder about all of the people in need right here in my own neighborhood. And it’s shameful that so many people can’t even surrender their ‘junk’ in order to help out others in need.

So. The next time you get the opportunity, donate or volunteer. Don’t just stuff your hands in your pockets and pass by the rackety bell-ringers. Do a little bit of good this holiday season every chance you get, because there are plenty of people in need.

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Are my He-Man days over?

“Daddy truck broke.”

I really couldn’t argue with Junior Destructo Man 2.5. Technically, I suppose a flat tire doesn’t ‘break’ the truck – but it does make it pretty darned useless for a while.

It was pitch dark (already, at 6:30 p.m., please see “Burn In Hell, Eastern Standard Time below for more philosophy on this) and my truck was sitting seriously wounded on a city street with its hazard lights blinking. The right front tire was F-L-A-T to the rim. [Crap].

We had just pulled out of the driveway at a friend’s house, hereafter referred to as the Truck Bermuda Triangle (TBT). This is the same driveway where, a couple of months ago, one of the posts on the truck’s battery had completely corroded out. Next time we visit them, I’m parking across the street.

But back to my flat tire. I’ve only been driving it since February, and standing there I suddenly realized I barely knew where the changing tools were. After sending the family back into our friend’s house, I dug out the tools and flashlight in hand starting searching under the truck for a jack point.

My friend the owner of the Bermuda Triangle showed up a minute later while I was still rolling around under the truck.

“Do you have a road service?” he asked. “To heck with this. Why don’t you have them change it?”

Well, God Bless DriveAmerica. That’s just exactly what I did. I, He-Man, called the road service and had them send out a kid with a tow-truck to change my damned tire.

“Hey, you got your jack out,” the Kid observed. “Why did you stop?”

Because, junior, it’s dark, I’m old enough to be your daddy, twice as cranky, bald and lazy. Now get to friggin’ work. I figured being truthful was the best way to keep my manhood from falling off. It worked. My spare tire got installed and my dick is still attached.

But it did make me wonder. Are my He-Man days over? 20 years ago I would have changed that tire myself, even if it took me all night and the truck fell off the jack and took out one of my lungs. Of course, 20 years ago I wouldn’t have had a wife and a 2.5 year old waiting in a nearby house. But I would have had an assault rifle in a gun rack and just shot the thing if it really pissed me off. And I would have smoked a pipe through the whole event.

Hm. The pipe is long gone. And I’m now down to just one semi-automatic rifle. No, make that two … er, three. OK, three. But only one of them has a high-capacity magazine. And it should really be two anyway, because a Ruger 10/22 barely counts as a gun, right?

Also gone are a bunch of He-Man books, mostly either sold off at a recent garage sale or simply thrown out because they were too stupid for anybody to buy. Dumbass stuff like “Getting Even” or books on trailcraft or about survival skills. Most of them were old and yellowed, some even falling apart. Nowadays you can find better info on the Internet anyway.

Does any of that mean my He-Man days are over?

Nah. I’ve still got the Uzi.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Busy.... Very Busy!!

This week’s slow-down in the rate of blog posts can be attributed entirely to my lack of time to indulge in anything interesting or blog-worthy.

In theory, most of my ‘hobby’ time this week was planned for a large terrain-building project. Not game-related hobby terrain, though. Instead it’s a large, fixed display for our church’s Nativity scene.

That was theory. In actual practice, I have spent the week helping the Missus get stuff sorted out and organized for a yard sale. The yard sale she suddenly decided last Sunday that we needed to have. Major time-eater.

At some point in time around the weekend, I should receive one of a few gaming items that I’ve either ordered online or shopped victoriously for on Ebay. I confess to being unable to resist the temptation to buy a couple of items from the new range of widgets Games Workshop is selling as part of their new “Apocalypse” genre of 40k gaming. When I spotted it for a good price, I caved and Ebayed an Imperial Baneblade – a mega-tank model, essentially. GW has also released their new “Linebreaker Squadron”, a kit with three Space Marine Vindicator tank models in one box. Mercantile types are breaking those kits up into three sets of sprues and selling them. Thus I also Ebayed a new Vindicator model.

I have absolutely no idea when I’m going to have a chance to build these things, but I’m determined to build out my 40k forces at some point. In my hobby universe, figure gaming is a sinful indulgence akin to eating dulce de leche (only, and lots of it) for dinner. It’s something that I spend more time preparing for than doing – but isn’t that the case with most hobbies?

I also ordered a new board wargame this week, which makes it a week of splurges indeed. As part of an order with a gift game or two, I bought myself a copy of Avalanche Press’ Jutland, one of their newest offering in the Great War at Seas series. It’s been out for a number of months (late spring?). I suffered a lengthy decision cycle on it primarily because I own the original GWAS: North and Baltic Seas. Jutland is basically an upgrade of North and Baltic Seas, which was just the second game in the GWAS series.

New art work, new mappage, new shippage, new scenarios – a lot changes in Jutland. I’m surprised I’ve held off so long in purchasing it.

I’ll be giving all of the above a few words in the space after they’ve arrived. And maybe someday I’ll even build those tanks.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Some thoughts on Veterans Day

On November 11, 1918, The War to End All Wars came to a conclusion when a general armistice between the Central Powers and the Entente went into effect.

Hmm. The War to End All Wars. That didn’t exactly work out, did it?

Americans have fought in many wars since then. And the other day, while I was stuck in traffic behind a Hummer with a “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker, it occurred to me that as a nation we have odd ways of supporting our veterans.

Generally speaking, we crap on them. We’ve been crapping on them for a long time, in fact. I’m not very well read on anything earlier, but I know plenty of Civil War veterans were crapped on. I know lots of World War I veterans were crapped on – in fact, wasn’t it our old buddy Doug MacArthur who chased them around Washington, DC with some bayonet-toting troopers? That’s a hell of a thank-you.

On Saturday I bundled Junior Destructo Man off to a model train show at the National Guard Armory here in town. He wasn’t so much interested in the large vendor section, but he was fascinated by the two working layouts they had setup in one of the side rooms. He stood and watched the larger scale train (S-Gauge?) for maybe 20 minutes before he even blinked. It didn’t help that the thing went “chug-chug” and “toot-toot” when the operator pushed a button on his transformer console. Bloody hell, I suppose I see what the future replacement for Thomas the Tank Engine will be.

What’s all of this got to do with Veterans Day?

Well, as we were leaving the building there were a couple of railroaders standing around, talking loudly (half deaf from the train whistles, I suppose). One of them was expounding on the proper treatment of military veterans.

“I was in the Marines in Vietnam, and when I came home they [crapped] on me,” one of them announced. “All these whiners today need to just shut up. We’re going to [crap] on them, too.”

Juan Carlos, of course, is a sponge for new sounds so I hope at some point in the near future I don’t have to talk him out of shouting [crap] at the top of his lungs. Be that as it may, it was just kind of sad (and a bit aggravating) to hear a veteran express such resignation. Or was it something more base? I had it crappy, so you’re going to have it crappy too. That would be even more sad.

Obviously, the politicians out there didn’t keep their heads down during the Sunday and Monday events that mark Veterans Day. They should have gone into hiding instead of parading around spouting off a bunch of [crap]. The way we treat our veterans is a national embarrassment.

It is our shame as a nation that a millionaire (as most of them are) can squat on his ass in the well-guarded US Senate for six years and then collect more retirement bennies (which he likely doesn’t really need) than a service veteran who, let’s say for example, has had his leg blown off in the defense of our country.

But back to the train show.

I had parked my pickup truck off to the side of the Armory building. About 30 feet away on the grass sat what remained of a decommissioned Sherman tank – you know the kind of junkchunk they usually park around Guard armories.

“Daddy, whazzat?” Juan Carlos asked. About 20 times in the span of ten seconds.

So I walked over to the rusting green junk pile, and talked to my two-year-old for a few minutes about what it once had been, and the brave men who had served in it and the evil they had defeated. And I thought about my Dad, who served in the Navy; my Papaw Edwards, the gentleman-farmer who fought in the Great War and about all of the other veterans I’ve known over the years who are now gone from this Earth.

God Bless them all. I’ll try to do better for them.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

For treadheads: ATS Stonne Heights

Another item that arrived near the Big Table during blog off-season was the ATS title Ghosts at the Meuse: The Battle for the Stonne Heights. This one is another complete boxed game and features the fighting for the town of Stonne, France in 1940.

Of all of the battles big and small during the German’s 1940 invasion of France, Stonne is one that seems to attract a lot of attention. It has a number of historical points in its favor, I suppose. It was a tooth-and-nail struggle in which the French fought the Germans to a standstill. The terrain is interesting. It was a mixed-arms affair that featured a considerable amount of armor on both sides. The German attack was spear-headed by the troops of the Grossdeutschland regiment, a formation that generated a lot of ‘ink’ in Nazi propaganda at the time.

Also, over the last 15 years or so the historical view (in American eyes) of the 1940 campaign in France has been revised away from the ‘pop history’ view of unstoppable Nazi war machine versus totally incompetent surrender monkeys. These revisions toward a more accurate overview have generated new interest in the campaign from American wargamers – which is pretty much the market force that drives which topics appear in print.

Some years ago, Stonne was the topic of The Gamers’ Tactical Combat Series game GD (Grossdeutschland) ’40. It was an interesting, well-researched game that suffered to a degree from the game system’s inability to successfully mesh armored operations with infantry. A less interesting treatment of Stonne appeared a couple of years back as the issue game in Vae Victis magazine, a French-language gaming publication.

Critical Hit – the publishers of ATS – produced a Stonne 1940 module for Advanced Squad Leader some years back, and this new ATS title is an outgrowth of that project (fairly obvious, since Pedro Ramis gets the design credit in both games).

The cartography is updated from the earlier ASL module and uses a larger sized hexgrid in order to accommodate the larger ATS counter size. It does a nice job of capturing the ruggedness of the terrain in the immediate vicinity of Stonne. In this game the focus is entirely on the fighting in the environs of the town, which means the players won’t necessarily get a feel for the ‘big picture’ of Stonne’s dominating heights with regards to the Meuse valley.

Ghosts at the Meuse also introduces the 1940 French order of battle into ATS. It’s a generous countermix that certainly includes more stuff than you’ll ever use in a single scenario. For treadheads, I’m sure the centerpiece of the OOB is the French B-1 tank.

The appearance of the B-1 certainly provide ample opportunity for the ‘what if’ crowd to get their jollies by matching the French heavy against the general more lightweight German tanks of 1940. Unfortunately, while the B-1 may have carried more armor than the German AFVs and fielded a good gun (for the time), French operational doctrine just wasn’t up to snuff.

A couple of Stonne scenarios actually made it onto the Big Table before the summer caught up with me. I didn’t set up any of the ‘big’ scenarios, but it seems to be a well-done kit with forces that match up well and provide an interesting look at a pivotal fight in the 1940 campaign.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Burn in Hell, Eastern Standard Time

Today we need to stop all of this silliness about baseball, tabletop games and other leisure pursuits and turn our thoughts to a more somber topic.

I would like everyone to join me in a moment or two of quiet contemplation regarding Eastern Standard Time and HOW MUCH IT SUCKS.

I hate the time change. I hate it with a burning passion. There are few things I despise more than working to my usual quitting time and then getting home after dark. Is that right? Is that the birthright we inherited from the founding fathers? Is that what God intended when He commanded “let there be light”?

I think not.

Many years ago (Many. Years. Ago.) my mother worked as a secretary in the offices of Kinsolving & Kinsolving in Shelbyville, Kentucky. It being a rural area and all at the time (it seems more of a Louisville suburb these days), many of their clients were either large local farms or agricultural concerns. When the time change arrived, staff had to remember who among their clients would arrive at the wrong time for all of their appointments until the time changed back.

“My cows don’t set their clocks back,” as one farmer explained it, “so neither do I.”

Sound reasoning, if you ask me.

When the time changes, I know that I am doomed to at least two weeks of waking up exactly one hour before my alarm clock goes off. That really pisses me off. I like sleep. I NEED sleep. I DO NOT need to wake up an hour before my alarm goes off.

I understand that there are weenie-headed, whining arguments in favor of the time change. Usually some crap about kids waiting for school busses in the dark. Those arguments are all worthless. Is it still dark at 8 a.m.? That’s when kids are waiting for their school busses in my neighborhood. Eight o’clock. Not six o’clock. EIGHT o’clock.

Some bunch of yahoos in Minnesota wants to start school at 7 a.m., so the rest of us have to set our clocks back? Screw ‘em. They can change when their school starts. In fact, they SHOULD change when school starts. Several scientific studies indicate that kids do better in school when they don’t have to be there at the crack of dawn. Why? Because they get more sleep when they’re not waiting for school busses at 6 a.m.

Well, duh.

The first presidential candidate to promote abolition of the time change gets my vote. I HATE Standard Time.

Monday, November 05, 2007

ATS Toktong Pass on the waiting list

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been over a year since I last posted anything about one of my favorite tactical game systems – ATS. Well, as it’s been seven months since I’ve pretty much posted anything, I guess it’s not that hard to believe. Man, time sure does fly when you have a Junior Destructo Man running around the house.

So today a quick look at one of the three ATS items that landed near my Big Table during the course of baseball season: The new, complete boxed game Toktong Pass: Escape from Chosin.

This is the first game in the Advanced Tobruk Series to be set outside of the Second World War. It concentrates on the actions of Fox Company, 2/7 Marines at Toktong Pass during the Chosin Reservoir battles. You can read a bit of the history at this address

or just Google around a bit for more information.

The game map, based on the historical terrain, covers a sizeable area around the heights that eventually became known as “Fox Hill”.

The color palette for the map is a bit on the dark side, but it’s easy enough to read. My only minor beef with the whole kit is the headache-inducing color scheme that’s been assigned to the North Korean countermix in the game. Here’s a sample:

Ugh. While you’re certainly not going to overlook them on the map, it seems to me that the colors might grate on players after a few hours of play. Actually, I think after a few hours the colors might induce epileptic seizures.

Other than that, it is a pretty interesting setup. Some post-WW2 hardware in the mix (most of which isn’t used in the Toktong scenarios), the North Korean troops are a lively bunch and the scenarios look pretty interesting.

Have I had time to set it up and play it yet? Nope. But I’ll get there.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Reports of this blog's demise are mildly exaggerated

Since the last post was made after the opening day of baseball season, I guess I’d better bookend the long, blog-less season by posting something of an update.

If you pay attention to baseball at all, you will know that Scott Boras did NOT take me up on my offer. Bob Wickman DID suck. The Braves pitching DID kill them. And, unfortunately, the Red Sox ended up getting a lot more media attention.

I think that’s that highlight reel in total, right there.

Baseball season is over. Now begins the season of our discontent.

As evidenced by seven months of assorted blankness and clever nothings, during hurricane season I lapsed into pathetic non-blogging. Too many other fun things to spend time on, I suppose. Work. Chasing the kid around. Baseball. Chasing the kid around. And more chasing the kid around.

With the sad absence of baseball a reality, perhaps now I’ll be able to bludgeon myself into keeping up with this widget to one degree or another. There are some interesting new games to discuss, and a couple of holiday ‘projects’ to document – so maybe I’ll get back into it.

Then again, maybe not. I am nothing if not lazy and unpredictable.