Barbarossa Derailed

From tactical level combat on the East Front, to operational level. On the table is Smolensk, one of MMP’s OCS games, this one featuring the summer ’41 battles to take Smolensk and open the road to Moscow. The historian David Glantz wrote a number of books about the campaign suggesting that the seeds of Nazi defeat on the East Front were to be found here. More typically, commentators have pointed at Stalingrad or Kursk, but rarely an event so early in the war. The arguments will continue and meantime I can game the situation and draw my own conclusions.

OCS is an intensive gaming experience. You have to plan ahead, sequencing your moves, maximizing your meager supply, pushing your cardboard soldiers to the limit, and extracting every last advantage from the interaction of the various rules systems.

For example, some air forces can conduct ‘hip shoots’ which, if they go well, cause enemy forces to lose their protective Zone of Control and reduce their fighting power. Timing such a strike is crucial. For example, the combat system gives huge bonuses if your lead unit – in attack or defense – has a higher Action Rating (troop quality). So small high quality units are best deployed wherever the action is or might be.

There’s lots more. OCS game turns are not short affairs. The downside is that when playing face-to-face there’s not much to do. I think that’s why some OCS games in conventions have lots of side games going on at the same time. This is not so much a disadvantage if you are playing solitaire, but it does mean there’s a big burden on the solo player. It’s hard work. Whether it’s enjoyable is a matter of personal taste.

On top of all of this is the perennial discussion of whether the system is an accurate model of WW2 operational level combat. I’ll not go there now. What I will say is that even setting up a scenario and getting a couple of turns in can be very educational about the campaign being portrayed. As usual, this means my non-fiction reading list has been expanded by a couple of books on the campaign.

I love this hobby.

So, how was your Rosh Hashanah?

Given the ever present covid warnings and the recommendation to pray outside, for Rosh Hashanah services, I went to the outdoor minyan that’s a short hop, skip, and jump from our apartment. The organizers had made a real effort to make it as comfortable as possible. There were even electric fans (on timers) to generate a decent cooling breeze. Still, at four hours plus, the first day’s service was too long. As one wit put it, “I wondered if they were actually planning on stopping for lunch.” On the second day, they shaved thirty plus minutes off that. So, long, but could have been worse.

Since moving to Israel, I have gradually ditched all the ArtScroll machzorim for Koren versions. The Rosh Hashanah machzor – the Rohr Family Edition – has a superb introductory essay by the late former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. What a great writer he was.

“These are days of reflection and retrospection when we stand in the conscious presence of Infinity, knowing how short and vulnerable life really is, and how little time we have here on earth. This can be, and should be, a life-changing experience.”

I cannot do justice to the essay here, but I do recommend you read it. Any Jew with a heart that reads the essay will be touched by it. It won’t turn a non-believer into a believer, but if read with an open mind, it will enrich your soul with an awe inspiring perspective on life, the universe, and our place on this planet. To put it another way, food for thought. And, for what it’s worth, I heartily thank the Rohr family for making the publication of that machzor possible. It’s a beauty. It played its part in spiritually enhancing the chag.

So, how was your Rosh Hashanah?

Whatever you did for Rosh Hashanah, I hope you weren’t part of the shocking breach of covid lockdown in Melbourne. What arrogance. What selfishness. And where is the rabbinic leadership? The offenders should be named and shamed and banned from receiving honors for a few years. Should be, but won’t. Somebody should force them to read Sacks’ essay in the Koren machzor.

So, how was your Rosh Hashanah?

[Echo warning.]

Whatever you did for Rosh Hashanah, I hope you weren’t part of the dozens of infected pilgrims caught returning from Uman with faked negative tests. What arrogance. What selfishness. And where is the rabbinic leadership? The offenders should be named and shamed and banned from receiving honors for a few years. Should be, but won’t. Somebody should force them to read Sacks’ essay in the Koren machzor.

It seems to me that there are too many elements of organized religious Jewry that have lost their way. Not all. Not most. Some. But even one is a disgrace and brings opprobrium down upon the larger Jewish community. Change is badly needed.

Tiger, Tiger…

So, continuing with the ATS module Panther Line, I moved on to the big scenario, number 4: Tigers on the Balcony. This is the crucial encounter between dug in Soviet forces on the dominant ledge, (the ‘Balcony’) assaulted by a mix of German infantry and pioneers (combat engineers) with three self-propelled guns and four Tiger tanks. The sitting defenders can be outflanked, but turn two sees the arrival of a chunky set of Soviet tank and infantry reinforcements.

To put it mildly, there’s a lot to chew on here and it was probably too much for me to handle on my own. My play will not have been optimum, for sure, but it was equally certainly fun and let me continue to enjoy the system at its best. I called it for the Soviets when it was plain the Germans were not going to overcome the loss of a couple of the Tiger tanks.

I then went on to play the much smaller, but equally fun, scenario 9: Pioneer Spirit. German pioneers and infantry have to take positions held by some top quality Soviet defenders.

As printed, the scenario allows the Soviets to hide a couple of squads. Playing solitaire, I came up with some random tables to inject some of the mystery and fog of war to match the missing hidden troops. These worked OK, but I’d love to give this one a try against a live opponent. I suspect that if the Soviet player doesn’t get the best out of his hidden troops, the defense will not endure.

That’s about it for ATS for now. I’ll be going back to it, but other games are screaming for attention.

Shanah Tovah!

It’s almost time to say goodbye to the old and welcome in the new year.  To those celebrating Rosh Hashanah, I wish you all a year of health, happiness, and prosperity.

And thanks to Browzwear for a cracking seasonal box of goodies.

Beating them back with a carrot?

Carrot or stick? What works best depends on the situation. I happen to believe if that you reward bad behavior, that encourages more of the same. With that in mind, this Times of Israel headline did not fill me with an overwhelming sense of optimism about peace in our time.

[Click the image to go to the article.]

Why is Israel making goodwill gestures in response to the violence from Gaza?

One theory is that Joe Biden requested (ordered?) this. This would give Biden some clout with the Palestinians, but would only be of any value if he used it for something sensible. What might that be? Rewarding the Palestinians further by reopening the consulate in so-called ‘East Jerusalem’ would just be more carrot. What’s the end game?

Another theory is that it’s an experiment to see what happens – as other approaches have failed to make a lasting impact – and a (futile?) public relations exercise. For example, with the extended fishing limit, that could bring meaningful economic benefits to the fishermen. Would they then have any clout in holding back Hamas? Do Hamas care if the fishing limit is reduced? All very puzzling.

My pessimistic view is that this is all a waste of time. It’s not going to achieve anything. Peace? Don’t make me laugh. It’s certainly not going to bring back the soldiers’ remains or the Israelis held, presumably alive, in Gaza. All I can say is that if the captives were white former residents of Tel Aviv who had served in the IDF, the situation would not be as it is now. My guess – and, yes, it is a guess: more of the same. No real change.

 

ברינע בת ר´ יהודה ליב הכהן

Tonight marks the start of the 30th anniversary of the yahrzeit for my late mother. The intervening years since her death may have dulled the pain, but the memories of her passing and her last few days of life seem fresh and sharp. I’m probably deluding myself on that last point. Nevertheless, it at least brings me some comfort.

My mother sacrificed everything for her sons, and my brother and I could never repay that debt in her tragically short life. She also taught us, by example, much about the right way to behave. Whatever good deeds we might do during our lives owes much to that inspirational leadership and is to her eternal credit.

 

The Dangers of Email

How dangerous is email?

The Register reports:

“Well, 91 per cent of all cyberattacks originate with email, according to Redmond.”

That’s a stunning statistic, especially if it’s accurate. And it partly explains why Microsoft is warning about “a widespread credential-phishing campaign” even although it claims its systems have a solid defense against it. Read the whole article here.

Holding the Line

I have moved away from the desert and am now embroiled in deadly combat on the Eastern Front.

I started with scenario 1, Right Hook, featuring an all infantry encounter with hordes of Soviet troops trying to take a fortified high-ground position held by somewhat second-rate Nazi defenders. This environment was a real contrast to the open terrain of the desert and it took me a couple of turns to get used to the changes. I played this scenario twice and thought it was one of the better ones.

Next, I jumped to scenario 10, Hammer and Anvil. This is an armor fight (though the Soviets have a 57mm anti-tank gun, too) between Tiger tanks and a motley selection of Soviet armor. This scenario brilliantly showcases the impulse system that ATS uses and is a real nail biter. (Instead of “I go, you go”, each side takes turns to move or fire one unit or platoon at a time. Deciding what to move or fore and when adds real tension and excitement to the gameplay.) Another good scenario.

Now I am playing scenario 6, A Nasty Surprise. This one has a rag-tag bunch of Nazi infantry, backed up by a couple of Tigers, tussling with a sizeable Soviet infantry force stiffened by half a dozen anti-tank guns.  It’s too early to comment on the quality of the scenario, but it does look challenging.

Overall, ATS is giving me a good solitaire friendly gaming experience. There’s no doubt the game lacks the depth of ASL – what some would call the crippling detail of that system – but the payoff is in speed of play. I hope to keep playing both systems for many years to come.

Misbehaving?

What drives the behavior of corporations? Is it purely the pursuit of profit? If asked, many would confirm they are in business to make money, but they do have standards of behavior as shown by their mission statement or code of conduct.

Remember Google’s “Don’t be evil”? That justly famous piece of text was originally a motto, then part of their code of conduct. After the 2015 corporate restructuring, parent Alphabet Inc. declared “Do the right thing” to be its motto, also being part of its code of conduct.

A December 2020 article by the Register reports:

“On Thursday Google was hit for the third time in as many months in the United States with an antitrust lawsuit, once again focused on the internet giant’s alleged monopolization of the search advertising market.

The legal challenge was filed in a District of Columbia federal court by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser on behalf of a coalition of 38 state Attorneys General. The states claim Google has engaged in anticompetitive conduct to maintain its dominance of the search advertising market, denying netizens the benefits of competition and harming advertisers with lower quality results and higher prices.”

A July 2021 report from Bloomberg says:

“Alphabet Inc.’s Google was sued by three dozen states alleging that the company illegally abused its power over the sale and distribution of apps through the Google Play store on mobile devices.”

These pieces of litigation have a way to go yet, but if it were true that Google was illegally abusing its power, that surely would not be doing the right thing. How does that sit with their code of conduct?

Note that, according to the Register article:

“The EU began its own antitrust inquiry into Google’s search ad business in 2010 and eventually targeted three Google businesses – Shopping, AdSense, and Android. In the years that followed, those investigations led to over €8bn in fines.

You might argue that a company that’s been fined for antitrust activity might take care in its dealings. You might say that it’s business as usual today and, anyway, it’s all a matter of interpretation. But, even if you think there may be excuses for such behavior in that area, there are lots of corporations who have certainly not done the right thing in fields other than antitrust law. For example, take a look here.

In his excellent Locus piece Tech Monopolies and the Insufficient Necessity of Interoperability, Cory Doctorow says this:

“Corporate personhood is obviously a sham. In his dissent in Citizens United, Supreme Court Justice Stevens wrote that corporations have no claim to free speech rights because “corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.” Companies may project a set of “corporate values,” but these values are a marketing strategy, not a set of deeply held convictions.”

As the author makes clear in his article, corporations rarely have your best interests at heart. Worth remembering.