Greetings! Welcome to the Chateau!

Within its corridors you will find insight into the books I have written, the books I am writing and the books I am thinking about writing.

It is also a place where I can offer insights into my favorite authors and - in the case of my game Conqueror: Fields of Victory - I can explain my rules and offer new variants.

Scroll down or check the sidebar for my latest posts.


Walls of Men: A Military History of China 2500 B.C. to A.D. 2020

Long Live Death: The Keys to Victory in the Spanish Civil War


Three Weeks with the Coasties: A Tale of Disaster and also an Oil Spill

Battle Officer Wolf

Scorpion's Pass

The Vampires of Michigan

The Man of Destiny Series:

A Man of Destiny

Rise of the Alliance

Fall of the Commonwealth

The Imperial Rebellion


Conqueror: Fields of Victory, Revised Edition

Other Writings features


Playing a new game: Bolt Action by Warlord Games

I recently purchase a copy of the Bolt Action World War II miniatures rules.  This is published by Warlord Games, which is affiliated with Osprey, one of my favorite publishing houses.

The story behind Bolt Action is kind of interesting.  The game designers started their careers working for Games Workshop, and were involved in the design of Warhammer 40,000, Warhammer Fantasy Battles and other stuff.  For many years they were quite happy with their gig, in part because they had a good amount of creative freedom and the company was growing by leaps and bounds.  From the 80s to through the 90s, there was continuous improvement in both the quality of design and physical appearance of their products.  I am not alone in considering it the Golden Age at GW.

However, by the late 1990s, the management had become more profit-oriented, and this resulted in friction between the designers, who wanted the best possible game design, and the management, that was more concerned with sales than the quality of the rules.

Since the bulk of GW's money came from miniatures sales, it was no longer enough to simply build a good wargaming system and  marketing it, the system itself became a vehicle to boost miniatures sales.  In practical terms, this meant that the rules of their games were altered to make players need to buy more figures either by increasing the scope of the game (requiring more models to play) or changing the rules for various units, requiring new models to remain "current."

As one might expect among creative types, they eventually got tired of this and left, staring various alternative companies.

Warlord Games is one of those successor companies, and the design of Bolt Action is essentially the final form of the earlier 40k system.  It therefore is familiar to me, intuitive, but much simplified and streamlined since it got more playtesting and the designers were freed from the constraints of managers pushing new editions every 3-5 years.

This places me in the unique position of having never played a game, but having a good idea how the game will play because it is so similar. 

The timing for this seems to be just right, as I am taking some time off over Christmas. 

There's something fun and exciting about starting a new game system, and that's definitely in play, even though I've seen much of it before.  I actually have a fair amount of figures already painted up due to my decision many years ago to use historical models for my 40k armies whenever possible.

At the same time, there is also scope for additional collecting (I'm looking at building a Soviet force to fight my existing Germans), which is always enjoyable.

Turning over a new leaf: Toxic Masculinity Tuesday

For a while I would note when various items posted over at, but I got out of the habit because they were becoming fairly common.

However, I'm making an exception because I've been invited to participate in a new features called Toxic Masculinity Tuesday.  The tongue-in-cheek title is a reference to the unabashed macho character of the films under discussion, and through a series of remarkable coincidences, I ended up penning this week's offering.

For those unwilling to take the click bait, I chose the 1991 Disney Beauty and the Beast, because it features multiple men who demonstrate strongly masculine traits, and these are taken as a matter of course.  Gaston is of course a bit over the top, but of all the Disney villains, he's probably the most liked by other people in the film.  He's actually a popular guy, he just takes things too far.

I intend to do deep dives in my entry, focusing on film noir and Golden Age movies.

Anyhow, it keeps me engaged in the absence of a new book project.

The limits of eye-witness accounts

A friend of mine's father served in the 12th Armored Division during WW II, rising from the ranks to be a lieutenant.  Remarkably, he's still alive, having passed his 100th birthday.

Apparently the tank destroyer battalion in his unit was what used to be called "colored," that is:  black enlisted men, white officers.  He took a dim view of them, and this extended to black people in general, since he regarded the tank destroyers as fundamentally cowardly, since they never stuck around during combat.

The term "tank destroyer" is somewhat misleading.  Americans may associate this with some of the heavily armored German or Soviet self-propelled artillery, which were nearly invulnerable to frontal bombardment. 

However, U.S. doctrine treated tank destroyers as highly mobile fire brigades, designed to race to threatened points and attack enemy vehicles by ambush.  Once discovered, they would pull out and move to a new firing position.  Their unofficial motto was "hide and hope."

Thus, the tank destroyers were only doing what American doctrine required of them.  I should clarify that my friend's father became an officer via battlefield promotion; he had no formal officer training, so he would not have known armored doctrine.  All he knew was what he saw on the field, and he rose to command by virtue of being alive more than any other quality.

This points to the limited value of eye-witness accounts.  They are hugely important, of course, since they represent actual human experiences.  However, they can also mislead if we place too much reliance on them.  Context is always needed.  The account of this particular veteran is invaluable not because it's analysis is correct (it isn't), but because it reflects not just how troops perceived the role of tank destroyers, but also black soldiers in general.

In both Walls of Men and Long Live Death, I used such first-person accounts as I could find, but I also had to include the context.  The stories of American volunteers in Spain are heavily influenced by Communist propaganda, which also shapes the context of their service.  The high overall casualties of the International Brigades has been cited as proof of their professionalism, courage and fighting spirit.  However, a closer review indicates that many deaths attributed to combat were actually extra-judicial executions for political offenses.

Similarly, the general point of view that Nationalist Armies fought poorly against the Japanese is simply untrue.  By the time the U.S. entered the war, China was cut off from foreign aid, and its armies had suffered terrible losses.  The cream of their forces had died, but not without inflicting considerable harm on the Japanese, who were content to wait on events.  Few first-person accounts of the fighting has reached us, which is why this largely unknown.

That's why these experiences are important, even if they are fallible.

I'm thankful for a year of growing faith

The other day I was talking to one of my kids and we agreed that the last "normal" year for us was 2019.  Since then, it's been crisis after crisis.  Some of this is related to world events (such as the pandemic), but other aspects are functions of poor decision-making and what would otherwise appear to random personal events.

The upshot is that we take nothing for granted, and our family continues to deepen its faith. 

It's interesting how - to outward signs - we used to be more faithful because every Sunday, the bunch of us dutifully trooped off to Mass.  Now, it's a rare thing for everyone to go, but that's more a function of logistics and physical limitations that lack of faith.   Back then, the kids went because we made them.  Now they go because they want to.

No pressure was applied to get people to see the relics of St. Jude the Apostle.  Interest was keen and the experience was profound.  This in turn strengthened our faith even more.

That growth in turn renders us less troubled by events in the world.   It's a wonderful thing.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful, and faith-filled Thanksgiving.

My eerily prescient take on the University of Michigan's football program

The University of Michigan's football program is making a lot of news these days, and none of it is good.  In October, an elaborate scheme for in-person scouting was revealed, and the school is under intense scrutiny both by the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference.  In addition, the FBI is already investigating other crimes which may or may not be related.

For those who don't follow sports, the core of the issue is that a yet unknown number of Michigan staff participated in a what was effectively a spying operation designed to capture the signals and plays of opposing teams.  The goal was to allow Michigan coaches to know exactly what plays were being called and have the perfect response ready at hand. 

Depending on who one asks, this is either only marginally useful, or decisive.  I'm in the latter camp.  From a military perspective, knowing exactly where, when and how an opponent is going to strike is a huge advantage.  Yes, one must still execute, but that's a lot easier if you know what is supposed to happen.

Sending individuals to observe or record these signals has been prohibited since 1994, and for good reason.  At that time, an arms race was breaking out across college football, and everyone was losing.  The wealthy programs chafed at the expense of paying people to go and obtain intelligence; the poor schools lamented their inability to compete, which compounded their competitive disadvantages.

As a result, the practice was banned, and all teams were provided with game film to review.  Some coaches continued to try to monitor play signals during the game, but this was far more difficult.

I mention this because three years ago I talked about All or Nothing, an Amazon documentary about the University of Michigan football program in 2017.   That year Michigan was expected to contend for the national title, but ended up losing to both rivals, and the sense of disappointment was crushing.  By 2020, the situation was even worse, with Head Coach Jim Harbaugh now winless against traditional rival Ohio State and having a losing record against arch-rival Michigan State.  Indeed, Harbaugh chose to hide behind Covid protocols to avoid a sixth consecutive defeat by the Buckeyes.

He was forced to take a major pay cut in order to keep his job.

What I did not know was that one of Harbaugh's responses was turn to a former Marine captain (and Annapolis graduate) for strategic insight - which included the illegal practice of scouting mentioned above.

As noted in the previous post, Harbaugh regularly spoke of "dark side energy," and using anger and aggression to get ahead.  This is clearly what happened, and the scandal is likely to bring long-term damage to both his reputation and that of the university.

There are also criminal implications.  Sports gambling is a billion-dollar industry, and vast sums change hands based on point spreads.  Over the past two and a half year, Michigan consistently defied this, leading to a considerable swing in who got what.  It is not unlikely that someone affiliated with the program knew and profited from this scheme, which stands next to the 1919 World Series in terms of corruption.

How it will play out is anyone's guess, but for those who paid attention, the roots of it were visible as far back as 2017.

An early end to my hunting season

Today was Opening Day for firearm deer season in Michigan, and I spent the day out in the woods, waiting for a deer to pass my way.

It didn't happen.

What did happen was that I learned a lot about how antiquated and broken much of my hunting rig was - some of it actually dated back to the 1980s!

This was a needed reminder that sometimes failure isn't a failure - it can be an important learning experience.

Despite my disappointment in terms of tasty venison, there is a lot to be said sitting in a glade and watching the shadows move across it.  I try to limit my screen time, but it took me a while to slow my mind down and focus on the movement of the birds, the light on the leaves, even the sound of the leaves hitting the ground.

While I didn't see a deer, a friendly mouse came into my blind, no doubt seeking a warm pocket to chill in.  I'm not fond of rodents, so I sent the creature on its way.

I also took the opportunity to say a Rosary, which is quite pleasant out in the woods.

All in all, a long day, but a worthwhile one.

Veterans Day as a civilian

A year ago I was preparing for my final Veterans Day observance in uniform.  I had a fresh haircut, shaved and showered, and played "Taps" at the Veteran's Memorial west of the state Capitol.

When I go today, I will still wear my field jacket, but it has a "retiree" patch added to it.  I will also have a beard.

My military retirement was not something I thought about much.  It always seemed over the horizon, something I would deal with when it got closer.  As I reached my 20th year of service, I realized that it was closer than I thought, and began to think about when I would leave.  I began some tentative planning, but the military's illogical (and illegal) reaction to Covid forced a rapid acceleration of my plans.

Hence the repeated applications.

I'm becoming used to civilian life.  I particularly enjoyed the lack of drill requirements during the summer and fall.   I finally cut my hair in September, and growing it out was partly a rebellion against grooming standards, and partly curiosity to see how much I still had left.  Turned out, it was more than I thought.

It was a strange sensation, and for much of this year I felt as though I had awakened from a long (and not entirely unpleasant) dream.  Retirement was something of a time warp - you get in as a young man and come out old.  My children have no recollection of me being a civilian and for the vast majority of our marriage, my wife has been a military spouse.

Almost a year later, we're mostly settled in to the new routine.  Today marks one of the last "firsts" in the retirement calendar, which is entirely appropriate.


Hunting finds strange new respect

I'm hoping to go deer hunting this year.  I'm not sure it will happen because I take nothing for granted.   I've got a plan, have lined up some dates, but one never knows.

I'm old enough to remember when there was a strong anti-hunting movement centered on the notion that it was a form of animal cruelty.  This was always a false.  All animals will die, the only question is how it happens.  There is no reason to believe that a lingering death by starvation or disease is better than being shot.  Highway collisions can likewise be instant or debilitating.  Last winter I saw a deer with three legs - the forelimb likely torn off by a passing vehicle.  It was ravenously hungry (eating shrubs the other deer left alone), and struggled to keep moving.

And then there are predators, who will not hesitate to start their meal before the prey has died.  Being eaten alive sounds a lot worse than being shot, no?

I'm increasingly seen people talking about hunting as a humane, sustainable and natural way to obtain organically-fed meat.  All of this is true.   Taking a healthy buck provides a bounty of nutrition, connects people with nature, and it opens space for the next generation of deer to grow.  Far from being Elmer Fudd, the modern hunter is acutely aware of proper safety techniques and is deeply concerned with shot placement and minimizing animal suffering.

I think people are also realizing that eating fake meat - made using energy-intensive processing techniques to create a strange simulcrum of animal tissue - is not the big environmental win it was assumed to be.  Every year a certain amount of game animals need to be culled in order to maintain the ecological balance.   Why let that nutrient-rich food feed people (removing pressure from production agriculture) rather than simply decompose on the roadside?

To date, I've taken one deer, and that was with a late-model sedan.  Here's to hoping for something more humane.

The fruits of the Reformation

While the Catholic Church has been absorbed with saints and souls this time of year, much of the Protestant world has been observing Reformation Sunday, a commemoration of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses.

Setting aside the merits of his claims, it is interesting to look at how well his teachings have done in the half-millennium since they were promulgated.

In Germany, Christianity is a spent force, and those few identifying it do so with practices that Luther himself would abhor - female clergy, legalized sodomy, and a general repudiation of the old teachings.  Interestingly enough, this love of sin and vice afflicts Protestant and Catholic alike.  Must be something in the water.

But elsewhere, we see the same symptoms.  I believe many of the old 'state churches' have been disestablished, but even if they haven't, are any of them following their original theology, or have they embraced modernity?  I think almost all of them lie on the most liberal end of the religious spectrum.

Mainline Protestantism in the United States has likewise collapsed into meaningless tropes, rainbow flags and an inability to define sin outside of "hate," which of course is the worst thing ever.  Female clergy can cheat on their husbands, divorce them, have open relationships and remain in good standing as they explore their "inner goddess."

The Church of England, with its separate roots, held together much better, but it has also splintered, first as the Methodists broke away, and now as the Anglican Communion has been torn asunder.

If one believes that the fruits of one's actions indicate their conformance to the will of God, then Luther's reform has failed.  The lands where it first took root are desolate, and the crop from its transplanted seeds is rancid and twisted.  Only a fraction of the harvest is wholesome.

Christianity has faded throughout Europe, and it has all but collapsed in Ireland, but elsewhere its seeds continue to flower.  There are more Catholics at Mass than Anglicans in England, and Scandinavia now boasts a small but growing Catholic community.

Maybe the branches of the Sixteenth Century German Church were already rotten, which is why they fell away so quickly.  There does not seem to have been the same level of clerical resistance in northern Europe as there was in Tudor England. 

Halloween for adults

This year marks the first Halloween when there are no children in the house.  Everyone is now 18 or older.

Okay, that's not technically true - the grandchildren will be over, starting the cycle anew.  Still, this fall has been quieter than any in more than a quarter century - no back to school, no marking periods, parent meetings, report cards or dances.  It's very relaxing.

Autumn is a nostalgic season, and a year ago there was an air of reflection and memory.  This year, the emphasis is on looking forward, as the kids continue to discover the joys (and pains) of independence and the grandchildren being to find their voices and understand the world around them.  The elder has memories of last year, so she had anticipated this moment.  The younger is taking it all in for the first time.  Next year both will be veterans.

I'm looking forward to Mass tomorrow, which is itself a sign of my spiritual growth.  Candy, scary movies and costume parties are all fun, but in my case they have become a bridge to something far more profound.