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.

Nonfiction:

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

Fiction:

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

Wargaming:

Conqueror: Fields of Victory, Revised Edition

Other Writings

Bleedingfool.com features

 


We Apologize for the Interruption of Service

For the last couple of days this site was inaccessible due to an unanswered renewal notice.  You'd think that having multiple services from the same vendor for the same sort of thing would be consolidated into one, easy to make payment.

But you'd be wrong.

Partly due to the Lovecraftian web of cut-outs, blind trusts and shell corporations that I use to manage this site and partly due to my own laziness, one of the renewals lapsed and we were down.

Happily, I've just made a deal to keep the Empire out of here forever renew the site for multiple years.

So at least we have that, which is nice.


A meeting with G.K. Chesterton

I consider myself a pretty well-read person.  I nearly finished Livy's history of Rome; would have finished Gibbon's but for an error in shipping (two copies of Volume 5 in the boxed set!); I've read Churchill's The Second World War twice, along with The World Crisis and The Aftermath and a bunch of other stuff; I've got most of Evelyn Waugh covered, etc.

But somehow G.K. Chesterton has been outside my scope.

Well, that's now changed.  My wife got me a pair of his books for my birthday, and so I've got a new author to explore.

He's a Catholic convert like me, so at least we have that in common.  Unlike Ford Madox Ford, the conversion "stuck," which is nice.

I've just started The Man Who Was Thursday and he has a nice turn of phrase, which in my opinion is critical.  I know a lot of people who can get past Stephen King's odiously crude writing style because they like the stories.  Nope, can't do it.  It's like driving on a punishingly rough road - at a certain point, the promised pleasures of the destination just isn't worth it.

All of which is to say: I may have a new favorite author.  I'll keep you posted.

 


Spiritual Warfare

In an earlier post I looked at the beauty of tiny miracles and that in turn feeds into a larger discussion about the spirit realm, particularly spiritual warfare.

The term itself can either ignite a serious conversation or stop it in its tracks.  This is because of the divide I mentioned earlier between the modern rationalists (who may believe in cessationism) and those who continues to see miracles in everyday life.

The lines between who believes in what in this discussion are often confusing - one might even say non-linear.

For example, most diagrams of Christianity's various branches show Orthodoxy (by which I mean both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches) on one end of the spectrum with newer Protestant denominations spreading out and moving farther away.

In fact, this isn't always the case.  The Anglican Church used to be very close to Catholicism in terms of doctrine and practice.   I remember my very Catholic grandfather used to go to the Maritime Sailors Cathedral in Detroit from time to time because the their service was so similar.

The Anglicans have only veered away in the last 40 years or so, and much of that variation is in practice, not dogma.  That is to say that like the United Methodists, the doctrines remain the same on paper, but they're simply no longer enforced by the heirarchy.

Rather than go through the messy (and divisive) process of rewriting canon law, they simply do what they do, knowing that there's no practical way to enforce any of it.

This leads to situations where Orthodoxy - with its traditions and hierarchies - is actually closer in doctrine to free-wheeling congregationalists than more nominally "mainline" Protestant denominations.

The topic of spiritual warfare is a great example of this.  If one buys into cessationism, or is one of the increasing numbers of Protestant pastors who don't believe Christ was bodily resurrected, this belief seems backwards if not downright superstitious.

Telling one of these folks that you've seen an angel will likely get you a condescending look and perhaps a suggestion that you not use so many drugs.  At worst, you might get a psychiatric referral.

However, there are a great many people in Evangelical circles who take this sort of thing very seriously.  Pentecostals, for example, are about as anti-Catholic as any Protestant can be, yet they very much believe in the miraculous.  They may distrust the Church hierarchy, regard the cult of saints as a pagan holdover, but when it comes to the spirit realm, they are fully on board.

Over the last few years, the Catholic Church has been turning back to this sphere.  Our Diocesan magazine has more and more articles focusing on spiritual warfare, and its being mentioned more frequently in homilies.

As the same time, just about everyone I encounter of late has said that something feels "wrong."  They can't put their finger on it, but there is a general uneasiness.  Perhaps after a long lull - which many convinced themselves to mean that spirits didn't exist - the operational tempo is picking up again.

 


Purple Rain - A movie-length music video

Though I came of age in the 1980s, I never saw Purple Rain.  It was too young to see that kind of film and when the New Wave moment had passed, I let it go.

To be sure, Prince had a storied musical career and continued to have hit songs, but arguably the height of his fame was his explosive debut upon the music scene in the mid-to-late 80s.  It was then that his sense of style, music and sheer oddness was in perfect accord with the moment.

Some time ago I bought a compilation DVD set that had several movies I liked, and also Purple Rain

I finally got around to watching it.

The first thing that struck me - and this is amusing I suppose - is how similar Prince's motorcyle was to the one my father owns from the same time period.  No, Dad's isn't purple, but it's a Honda, has the same engine and starter noise and he got a similar-shaped fairing to go along with it.  Serious nostalgia trip hearing that thing start up.

As to the film, I was immediately struck by its similarity to the Fred Astaire dance movies of the 1930s.  That is to say, the plot (such as it is) is merely a bridge to get you to the musical numbers.  Acting?  Yeah, that's not what you came to see.

In that sense, the film is outstanding, not just in the quality of the entertainment, but in capturing the moment when it was made.  Many films are obviously dated, but Purple Rain is frozen in a particular time, and it's interesting to go back and look at it.  I wonder if people to whom the 80s are as distant as the 50s are to me get the same vibe.

One additional insight I gained was new respect for Prince's towering talents.  He was a complete lunatic, but also a certified musical genius.  He was one of those rare individuals who could combine composition, musicianship, showmanship and dance into a single dynamic package. 

I have a limited tolerance for his works, but I cannot help but admire his masterpiece.

It is also a sad commentary on the current scene that no such individual who combines all of his attributes now exists.  He was always unique, but not long ago it was expected that true artists had multiple talents, not just the ability to chant obscenities into a microphone.

Thinking back to his death, I can't help but marvel that he lived as long as he did.  Such talents are usually not long for this world.

All of which is to say, I will watch Purple Rain again, not just to pick up on additional details, but to once again immerse myself in an increasingly distant and alien time.

And I will also savor a talent the likes of which we will not see again.


The true lesson of Memorial Day is forgiveness

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of the summer vacation season and just as with other holidays, we are also enjoined to recall its true meaning - that of honoring the dead who died in service to our country.

I think there's another lesson though, one that is increasingly important - and also overlooked:  forgiveness.

The American Civil War was a remarkably brutal conflict, and historians are still marveling at the breadth of its destruction.  In recent years demographic research indicates that the death toll was far higher than usually reported, and even the revised numbers cannot be taken for sure given the poor communications and far-flung scope of the fighting.

What is remarkable is how quickly the two sides reconciled.  There was no prolonged guerilla conflict, or periodic rebellion as each new generation came of age and decided to take up arms in the manner of their ancestors. 

This process was not perfect, and in some ways it is still underway, though the grievances aired today no longer tie back to the conflict but instead contemporary politics.

For example, the presence of statues honoring the dead of both sides on battlefields and in cemeteries is a classic sign of peace.  Demanding one side's monuments be removed is the opposite of building unity, and in fact it's a time-tested way to reignite conflict.

This Memorial Day, we should turn our hearts to seeing statues of the Blue and Gray for what they truly are: enduring symbols of how a people can tear themselves asunder, fight to the last bloody inch, and then become one again.  We need more of it.


For a Few Dollars More is an uncomfortable movie to watch

Over at Bleedingfool.com my extended meditation on the perils of prequels is now live and I give pride of place to the Man with No Name "trilogy" of films:  A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Today I want to talk about the second film in the series, which clearly builds on the first.

One of the best parts of the film is the rivalry between Clint Eastwood's "Manco" and Lee Van Cleef's "Colonel Mortimer."  During the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were a lot of films that featured a pair of protagonists pulling dirty tricks on each other.  Charade is a great example of this.

As one would expect of the author of a column on movie firearms, For A Few Dollars More is a drool-fest of vintage Geek Guns. 

However, these pleasures are greatly offset by the extremely painful scenes where the villiain (Gian Maria Volonte's "El Indio) demonstrates his cruelty and depravity.  The way in which these sequences are extended goes beyond any storytelling necessity and is clearly a moment of satisfaction for the director.

One thing I've learned over the years is that while there are some happy coincidences in movies, most of the time the things that end up in them are meant to be there.  This is particularly true in extended sequences that create discomfort.  It's now come to light that many controversial scenes were imposed upon the actors and far from being high art, these sequences were really just the directors getting their jollies.

That cuts into the otherwise enjoyable spectacle of Eastwood and Van Cleef double-crossing each other while making improbable shots with beautifully-crafted prop guns.


In praise of tiny miracles

One of the aspects of my continuing conversion that has been particularly acute of late is that of discerning the spiritual realm.

That's actually quite hard these days, because from the moment we encounter the world, we are taught to do so through a secular perspective.  Even people of faith find themselves in this bind, where the first explanation for any extraordinary event has to be a "logical" one.  Should those fail to do the trick, the event itself is now put under greater scrutiny.

Whatever happened, it couldn't be a miracle.

This secular lens creates a tension within your faith.  On the one hand, Christians are supposed to believe in all manner of extraordinary things that defy science and reason, from a virgin giving birth to a man rising from the dead and ascending into heaven.  In between those events there are still more miracles involving wine, water, bread, language, and so on.

Angels pop in from time to time with various messages.  They are so awe-inspiring that they almost always have to preface their remarks by saying "Be not afraid."

And there are demons!  Demons that possess people, make them act crazy and ultimately need to be cast out by divine power. 

So you have this incredibly rich realm of spirit and divine power that in many ways has been reduced to fairy tales from the Age of Legends, or as the theologians call it, the Apostolic Age.  They believe that when the original apostles finally died off and the New Testament was written, the miracles mostly went away.  The term for this is cessationism, and I have to say it's a pretty bleak idea.

The thing is, it's in many ways pervasive in our modern culture, partly because it's only slightly removed from pure atheism, which denies miracles altogether.  Cessationism seems to me like a halfway house for people who want the respect of secular types, but still like the idea of Christianity.

Of course this belief is in direct opposition to the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, which insist that the miracles never stopped and are still going on today.  All you have to do is look for them.

I'm increasingly in agreement with this point of view, and once I began to put on my 'spirit' lenses, I was amazed at how much I saw going on that I'd always missed before.  It's like going from black and white to full color.  I can't imagine ever going back.

Miracles come in all sizes, and I find the smaller ones often have deeper meanings.  When a friend you've long abandoned hope of seeing suddenly contacts you when you feel totally alone, that's a miracle.  It's a small, unexpected, improbable thing happening right when it was needed. 

There are all sorts of ways these things play out, and if one maintains an open mind and an attitude of gratitude, you'll start seeing them all over the place.


My first 15 years as a Catholic

Traditionally, converts to Catholicism are received into the Church on Easter.  Because I'm special, my family did so on Pentecost, so today marks the 15th anniversary of my conversion.

I went into it knowing it was a process rather than an event and a decade ago I tried to drive this point home as an RCIA sponsor (that's Catholic-speak for mentoring a convert).

Things have changed a lot in the last 15 years and so have I.  Two of my daughters are grown up and the youngest (who was but an infant) is now almost 16.

My understanding of God has changed a lot, too, and while some people hint that conversion will make for less troubles as the result of divine favor, that's not strictly true.  There were a number of crisis in the last decade and a half - simply joining Team Christian didn't give me immunity from adversity.

However, it did give me the means to deal with it in a positive way.

Am I a better person?  I think so.  I also think I'm more moral - not superior to everyone else, just doing a better job of living in accord with Christian values.

While I seem to sinning less, I'm more aware of my past sins, which makes me very humble.  In recent years, one of the aspects of the Church I've come to appreciate greatly is Reconciliation.  It used to be something I dreaded, but now I look forward to it.

Being Catholic also opened my eyes to a world I never even knew existed.  In Brideshead Revisited, Sebastian at one point remarks to Charles that Catholics simply see the world differently.  It's true - and once seen, it can't be unseen.

That new vision has given me a new perspective on favorite authors like Tolkien, and introduced me to new favorites like Evelyn Waugh. 

As I said, conversion is a process not an event, and I'm interested to see what the next 15 years will bring.


A garden of trees

This time last year, we were busy working on a vegetable garden.  We ripped up the sod, put down fertilizer and planted the seeds.

Our efforts were rewarded with lots of healthy plants, but that was before the local wildlife got a crack at them.  I spent the balance of the summer trying to outwit these predatory herbivores, eventually creating an elaborate fence system designed to keep them out.  I also deployed a trail cam for better intelligence regarding their numbers and capabilities.

In the end, our harvest was meager: a couple of green peppers and a tomato.  I think we got part of a squash.  The animals ate the rest.

This year I'm planting something different: trees.   These aren't from a nursery, either, but saplings that are sprouting around the yard, usually in planters.   I'm really just transplanting them to a single area.  They are mostly maple trees: box elders, silver maple and a red maple.  These are common in the neighborhood, so I know they'll grow here.

In doing this, I'm following the lesson of the wild raspberries, letting nature by my guide rather than trying to impose my will on it.  Some of the saplings have already been eaten, others are struggling, but a few seem to be doing well.  That's all it takes.

My writing has ceased for the moment due to some other distractions, but that's also okay.  When the time comes, I'll have something to say.


The rise of the chatty contractor

Every year about this time, I take on a home improvement project.  Sometimes it is modest, sometimes a bit more ambitious, but we're always trying to me our house more cozy.

This year is a little different because years of frugality and careful budgeting are finally paying off.  We're looking at tackling some long-standing issues, which is a good thing.

Naturally, we have to get estimates and that requires measurements.  It seems like every week we've got someone popping in with a logo on their knit shirt ready to take the tape measure the windows, walls, floors or whatever it is they do.

What's unique is how eager these people are to just talk.  In past years, people would come in, make polite small talk, and go. 

Not this year.  Twice I've basically had to shoo them out the door because they were so eager to just sit and chat.  One of them did just that - having completed the measurements, he took a seat in my living room and spent the next two hours asking me about the decor, books I had on the shelves and so on.  He was particularly interested in the author copies of my books (I keep a few on hand for gifts) and after dropping hints I finally told him it was time for me to make dinner.

Today was another such episode.  My daughter suggested that with Covid still looming large in the public imagination, a lot of people are starved for a good talk. 

Let's face it: we're social animals, and that personal contact is something we instinctively crave.

All of which is to say that while I'm happy to chat while they're putting together the estimates, I'm not doing it during the installation.