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

 


The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

The liturgical calendar was something I was only vaguely aware of when I entered the Catholic Church 16 years ago.  Yes, I knew about some of the bigger religious holidays, but the extent to which all time is organized in accord with religious memorials, solemnities and feasts escaped me.

Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy was something of a wake-up call.  One of Waugh's quirks was to order the events in the book to the liturgical calendar, rather than by giving specific days and months.  This book really opened my heart to the richness of what the Church offers.

The Lord of Spirits podcast pushed me further, helping me to recognize that the world can be viewed with both secular and spiritual lenses.  As time has passed, I'm more quick to push the secular ones aside and take a glance at the Unseen as well as the Seen.

So of course the momentous news that Roe v. Wade had finally been decisively repudiated came on day of religious significance - and one that will no doubt have more significance going forward.

The ruling had been leaked, but to what end?  Was it genuine?  Would it hold?  Apparently it did, and for much of the day I struggled to adjust myself to the new reality.  I am only a little younger than Roe v. Wade, and have grown up in its long, dark shadow.  I've watched society become ever more obsessed with personal pleasure at any cost, and I've seen the act of abortion go from being considered a lesser evil to a positive good.

This is nothing short of demonic.  There are few perversions so profound, so stark as convincing mothers to slaughter their unborn children so that they can better enjoy life.  At least in pagan times, children were offered up to the gods in exchange for timely rains or abundant harvests - matters of communal survival.

Today, the payoff is a few extra packages from Amazon or a week's vacation through Airbnb.  Put simply, humans have become really cheap dates for the dark powers.

That changed yesterday, and while it was a great victory, the struggle is not over.  It will new enter a new phase as the Enemy tries new methods and attempts to break up the coalition that achieved it.

Still, as the calendar reminds us,  there is a time for everything.  I will spend the news few days contemplating the great goodness of God, and how fortunate we all are to see this day.


Classic pessimism: Charleton Heston's The Omega Man

Having run through the Mad Max films, I've decided to compare them to other "end the world" films.

One of the classics in the genre is The Omega Man.   This is based on a book titled I am Legend, which was made into a movie titled The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price in 1964.  The Omega Man was a 1971 remake and the latest entry is Will Smith's I am Legend from 2007.

Clearly the concept is a popular one.  In Heston's version, either China or the USSR has loosed a biological weapon that kills most people and turns others into sunlight-hating psychopaths.  There is a strong zombie-ish element here, and many of the set-piece scene echo George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, which separated the concept of zombies from their Caribbean voodoo origins.

To modern eyes, the film moves slowly, unfolding gradually as the audience realizes that things are not as they appear.  Much of the horror element in the film is achieved by showing the way society collapsed.

Heston's character is the Last Man - a military scientist who perfected a treatment (they call it a vaccine, but it's really a treatment) for the plague but couldn't deploy it fast enough to save humanity.  He sits in his fortified house talking to himself, foraging for food, luxury items and trying to retain his sanity while fighting off The Family, a bunch of zombies led by a vindictive former newscaster.

There's lots of social commentary from the 70s of course.  Despite being conservative, Heston held many conventionally liberal beliefs about racial equality and these featured prominently in his films.

Another problem for modern viewers is the lack of what I'd call tactical skill on the part of Heston's character.  He's very casual about what equipment he carries, sets down his weapons out of reach, and basically sets himself up for trouble.  This might be lazy writing or simply that people hadn't explored the problem of 'adventuring' in as much depth.

It's worth recalling that modern sensitivities in this respect have been shaped by four decades of Dungeons and Dragons-style roleplaying, which often become intensely detailed in terms of what items are most useful, the proper way to clear a room, etc.  Console and online games have intensified this by making it accessible to people unwilling to read multi-volume rules sets.

As I've pointed out in the Mad Max films, religion is largely absent, save in The Family's anti-faith.  Heston himself does not pray, though he uses the religious-inspired curses of the time.

Yet as we've seen through the real-life pandemic (and throughout history), in times of disaster, faith communities can be crucial to surviving.  That would have been true during Covid but for massive state power being deployed to keep people away from church.  This combined with churches trying to show their fealty to "the science" by stopping in-person services well beyond what was warranted.

And yet, despite biological danger and official persecution, the faith endures.

This absence is more striking in The Omega Man because it uses some very heavy-handed symbolism regarding Heston's disease-resistant blood and how it can save humanity. 

As a film, it's very much a creature of its time, and useful to see what horror/post-apocalyptic films used to be.  That is to say it's a fun look back, but it is not a timeless classic one enjoys for its own sake.


Miami Vice at the halfway point

As part of my return to the shows of my youth and teenage years, I'm going through the entirety of the iconic Miami Vice.

It's an interesting contrast to Magnum p.i.  There are a number of obvious similarities.

Both take place in a gorgeous tropical setting, both of the lead characters are Vietnam veterans who drie expensive sports cars and the plots revolve around weekly guest stars.    In Magnum, they were clients and sometimes villains; in Miami Vice, they're usually criminals.

Of course one was a detective show, the other a cop drama, so the conventions are similar but also different.  Magnum's goal is to solve the case, not get the bust.

Chronologically the shows overlapped each other for a couple of years, and by that time, Magnum had evolved quite a bit.  These were the final seasons, which shook off the show's lethargy and moved forward with multi-episode plots and also a sense of purpose.

Like Magnum, Vice came out of the gate strong, and at this point in its shorter run, things are still moving briskly.  We're getting recurring minor characters and villains.  The first season experimented with some low comedy involving secondary characters, but that did not happen during the subsequent season.  The focus is squarely on Crockett and Tubbs, and when supporting characters get time, it's done is a more serious way.

I will say that the most striking difference is in the soundtrack.  Magnum's soundtrack is great, but it is largely a reprise of the main title or some character-specific leitmotifs.

Vice uses contemporary music, so much so that it times it feels like an extended music video.  The latter show was never the smash ratings success that Magnum achieved, partly because it aired on Friday night, which has smaller audiences.  In fact, I rarely saw it for that reason - as a high school student, there were football games and parties and such.

Still, there's no question that Vice impacted the culture, and watching it is an immersive experience - everything is contemporary, right down to political jokes and issues of the day.  The Drug War was spiraling out of control with street violence reaching its peak in 1990 before beginning a long, gradual decline.  The Cold War was also nearing its culmination, leading to a toxic mix of politics and money.

The show captures this moment brilliantly.  I'm going to be sad when I've finished.

 


Philosophy without God: Dark City - the original and director's cut

A quarter-century ago, I used to go the movies quite frequently.  I was one of those people who watched the trailers to see what was coming out soon rather than just enduring them.

I recall quite clearly that the trailer for Dark City immediately caught my attention and when I came out, I loved the film, bought the soundtrack and eventually the DVD.

I'd classify the film as sci-fi noir, a somewhat niche category it shares with Blade Runner.

I did not know there was a 'director's cut' available, and found out only by chance.  A friend of mine bought one of the many DVD compilation sets flooding the market.

I have to say that this is one of the few good things about the present age: buying movies has never been cheaper.  Not only that, they come in very compact packaging, easing storage. 

There's a strange paradox at work, too.  If you buy the single movie you really want, it will cost around $30.  If you a two-disc combo, $15.  Three discs might be even less.

True, you might get some stinkers mixed in, but you're still saving money by purchasing the collection and - as long-time readers may have noticed, I'm seeing films that I never would have bought on their own.

Anyhow, the new version if Dark City is better.  Not a lot better, but better all the same.  It dispenses with the intro voiceover which acts as a spoiler and there are some subtle changes elsewhere.  I guess the special effects were upgraded and - though I can't find proof of this - I think it uses Jennifer Connelly's own voice during the night club scenes rather than dubbing another artist.  I say this because I've listened to the soundtrack version frequently as part of a mix I use while painting miniatures, and that is not the same voice.

Something that I missed at the time but now stands out glaringly is the lack of God in the film.  I'm noticing that more and more these days.  Religion has always been something of a blind spot (if not an object of hate) for Hollywood and Dark City's musings on what it is to have a soul and how much it can be manipulated by false memories ignores the spirit realm entirely.

This is interesting because it has the same director as The Crow, which is of course a profoundly Catholic movie.   Then again, I've also noticed that lots of religious references and themes seem to happen by accident.

As the Lord of Spirits podcast likes to joke, our 19th Century German friends have a lot to answer for in terms of corrupting religion and the world in general.  For all of human history to that point, people accepted that the supernatural was real and that people had distinct spiritual needs.  The rise of the hyper-rational school of philosophy not only broke this relationship, it left us too blind to appreciate it.

Whenever something miraculous happens, the immediate Western response (even among religious people!) is to try to find "a rational explanation."  It's not just blindness, it's intentional blindness, and it takes years to unlearn that habit.  I'm trying to teach my kids to see the world outside of secular "logical" lenses, but it is pervasive in the culture.

Dark City is still a great movie, wonderful soundtrack and mood, compelling performances and the late Roger Ebert loved it so much he did a full commentary track on it. 

I'm not a huge fan of his work, but the guy had considerable influence in critical circles, and it's unusual for a critic to become that much of a fanboy, so it speaks well of the film.

Unlike Blade Runner, I think both cuts work.  I will give the nod to the director's version but I'm not into it enough to pay for it.


Mad Max and Warhammer 40,000: A transition from Orks to Chaos Marines

Over the course of watching the various Mad Max films, I've noticed a peculiar shift.

The aesthetic in the 1980s was one of biker junkyard tribal punks - spiked mohawks, salvaged hotrods and a callous, barfight-level ethos.  The villains in both The Road Warrior and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome are brutal, but not particularly sinister.  They laugh when the other side is hurt, but they laugh when their own lads get smashed.  All in good fun, mate.

They consciously copy J.R.R. Tolkien's visions of orcs as callous, bullying Cockney louts.  There is a scene in Lord of the Rings where one orc leader tells his counterpart about a time they thought one of their soldiers had been killed by Shelob, only to find him quite alive, but hanging in a web.  Oh how they laughed, and of course they left him there because they are callous, cruel and also cowardly. 

This vision clearly informed Games Workshop's background for Warhammer 40,000.  The space orks (note the spelling) are entirely based on the biker types from the Mad Max films.  In fact, GW goes even farther, with wildly improbable machines, all described in Cockney terms.

With Mad Max Fury Road, the aesthetic changed sharply.  The vehicles are still modified, but they are built with a far more sinister purpose, and instead of tribal warriors with strong individual identities, one sees homogenous shaven-headed dark-eyed fanatics serving a skull-mask wearing leader. 

Or, as anyone familiar with 40k would say: a Chaos Lord.

Indeed, there is a vehicle in Fury Road that could have been cribbled from one of the Chaos rulebooks - I'm speaking of the vehicle with a helmeted guitar player surrounded by a wall of speakers wielding a flame-throwing instrument.  If this guy isn't a Champion of Slaanesh, I don't know what is.

Is George Miller a 40k fan, or is it mere coincidence?  I have no idea, but I find the similarities to be striking.


June is upon us!

Okay, this post is only six days late, but I've been very busy doing Important Stuff which does not include writing.

I digress.  June marks the opening of summer in Michigan.  It's technically late spring, but everything is greened out and the oppressive humid heat has not yet set in.  School is winding down, and the weekend festivals are underway.

Are these a thing in warm-weather climates?  I honestly don't know, but in Michigan every weekend from May to September is some kind of festival.  Traverse City is famous for the Cherry Festival and Holland has the Tulip Festival.  There are art festivals in Ann Arbor and East Lansing.

Then there are the lesser festivals - the Mint Festival in St. Johns and the Potato Festival in Posen.

It sometimes seems that if you just drive the back roads in any given direction during the summer, you'll stumble into a festival for something.

Michigan winters suck.  Yeah, we have decent amounts of snow for skiing and sledding and such, and sometimes crystalline skies, but much of the time it is relentlessly overcast.

That makes summer that much more enjoyable - a 90-day party that winds down with the coming of fall, which is the crown jewel of the state.  Fall in Michigan is magnificent, but also fleeting.

Summer is about sustained fun, and it's just getting started.


How to make an action movie boring: Mad Max Fury Road

Okay, I have to take back some of my criticisms of The Road Warrior.  For all its flaws, that is a far better film than Mad Max Fury Road.

I approached this film with an open mind, but right from the start it set my teeth on edge.

Apparently, George Miller has the same problem as George Lucas: given an unlimited budget and three decades to think over an iconic series, both of them have no idea what actually made the things work.

Thus: Miller 'reimagines' Mad Max as a guy who is emotionally crippled but physically invulnerable.   What this means is that at crucial moments where Max can solve a problem, he will fail due to a flashback but that's okay because he's so unrealistically tough that he will get through it just fine.

This in turn destroys dramatic tension because nothing is at stake and so all one has left is to watch a very long special effects demo reel.

This brings us to the other problem: totally uninteresting characters.  I'm trying to think of any time where the cast has to make a decision about something, a moment where there's a non-event driven discussion (i.e. it isn't sandwiched in an F/X sequence).  I can't come up with one.

While the earlier movies have cool action scenes, they also feature actual drama, where the characters talk to each other and debate what they should do without driving or shooting or whatever.  These sequences give the audience a chance to get to know the cast and also serve to heighten the dramatic tension since we can now anticipate some action.

Fury Road has zero character development.  Charlize Theron's character is completely uninteresting.  She literally is reduced (like so many characters these days) into the standard-issue "diversity points" of being female and having a prosthetic hand.

That's it.  No personality to speak of because by 2015, checking the diversity boxes was considered enough.

Ironically, in 1985 that wasn't enough.  Tina Turner isn't just an "empowered black woman," she's fascinating to watch.  Her lair, her manner of speech and the fact that she has a court blues sax player - all of these make her much more interesting than Theron's character.

The other issue with the film is that it's just completely improbable in terms of the scale and type of facilities the bad guys use.  Where does the water come from?  How do they pump it up and out of those pipes with such pressure?  What do the bucket people do when it doesn't flow, just sit there and be thirsty?

Also: who maintains these roads in the middle of nowhere?  A big sandstorm would completely cover them and there are no markers so that they can be dug out afterwards.

Another sour note: they finally put religion into a Mad Max film and it's some oddball Norse crap that serves as the opiate of the masses.  So predictable.

These may seem pedantic complaints, but the more fantastic one makes a setting, the less investment people have in it - especially when the characters are so bland.

Finally, I have an issue with the whole Handmaid's Tale thing, which is supposed to empower women, except when it wants them wearing flimsy, transparent clothes that leave nothing to the imagination.  They are fleeing across the desert.  Maybe extra clothes could have been included?  Just throwing that out there.

Taken as a whole, I was pretty bored by the end.  Even the soundtrack was bland.

 

 


A theory on "pro-choice Catholics"

Whenever one finds a "dissident" group that appears to advocate for the exact opposite of what an organization generally stands for, it's a good bet that it is insincere.  Choose your term of art - "astroturf", "false flag" - the notion is that it's basically a front group that's trying to attack the organization from within.

In the realm of religion this is a bit strange because (especially in the United States), there are few obstacles preventing movement from one belief to another.  Obviously, people in concentrated and close-knit communities such as the Amish or Mormons might find support "on the outside" hard to manage, but if one deeply disagrees with the teachings of the faith to the point of openly disputing them, that decisions has already been made.

There are of course a few exceptions where the dissenters actual win.  The Anglican Church is one example of this.  Just about everything the Anglicans believed in a century ago has been discarded.  Heck, the changes over the last 25 years have been profound.  So it is with the United Methodists (which are in fact breaking up) and other Protestant groups.

Within the Catholic Church, however, such movements gain little official traction.  In fact, right now the Church is seeing a strong push from the laity to become more orthodox, more faithful and more consistent in enforcing doctrine.  The current moral laxity (such as that originating in Germany) seems to come entirely from the leadership, which is stuck in a 1970s mindset).

Thus we have the strange creature known as the "pro-choice Catholic," an individual who claims to be a member of the Body of Christ, yet for some reason directly contradicts sacred scripture,  Church tradition, long-standing doctrine and Papal pronouncements. 

As my father likes to joke, there's a term for people like this: "Protestant."

I think the issue is twofold.  On the one hand, there is the egotism of thinking oneself smarter than the Church fathers, the Magisterium and the rest of the faith.  For some odd reason, people sometimes produce polls showing that a significant amount of Americans support some form of abortion, as if the Catholic Church is some sort of elective body.

There's also the fact that these people tend to be older, cradle Catholics whose identity was shaped when being Catholic was more of an ethnic identity than a religious one.  Neighborhoods were more ethnically homogeneous, so on Sunday, all the Irish, Italians, Polish, etc. went to Mass by default.

These communities have broken up over time, so there's no comparable social pressure.  Catholics are fully in the American mainstream and have been for a while.  Still, the older sort clings to their nominal faith perhaps out of a nostalgic sense of victimhood. 

In any event, I think there's another aspect to this, which also is rooted in the past, and that's the experience of socially ambitious Catholic women.

Young women in the 1960s did not have a lot of options for birth control.  Yes, The Pill burst on the scene (with disastrous results), but women of "good character" would never admit to taking it.  Certainly not Catholic girls.

Similarly, the time-tested condom was out of the question.  For one thing, "nice girls" didn't dare keep them around, nor would they admit having planned to have sex outside of marriage.

This is why abortion became such a lightning rod - because these women were going off to college, experimenting with relationships and wanting to try sex - but if they got pregnant, their lives would be completely ruined.

None of them could face the disgrace of being an unwed mother.  To them, it was worse than death, a life without the dream of house, husband and children and the social stigma was too terrible to contemplate.

Adoption was not really an option because it would require months of seclusion and also a paper trail.  Even if all went well, the child might come back, and could wreck an otherwise happy marriage by exposing Mom's Dark Secret.

Abortion avoided both problems.  The baby was obliterated and no one would ever know.  Having made "a mistake" the woman could resume her hope for a nice husband and happy home - and children whose entry into the world would bring her status rather than shame.

I think this attitude is pervasive among women over 50.  Under that, it's more of a tribal membership because by the time the Gen Xers were getting into college, condoms were pretty much being distributed far and wide.  Birth control had lost its stigma even among Catholics, and if one didn't want The Pill, there were other more discrete but effective options.

But for the generations before, abortion was the only option.  "Nice girls" didn't keep that stuff lying around and in fact if - at the moment of decision it was produced - the man might be filled with disgust.  Here he thought he had truly seduced the innocent, only to find out he's bagged a slut with a condom stash!

To be clear, none of these women necessarily wanted pre-marital sex, but if they got lost in the moment, what would be their recourse?  Abortion would.

Of course, the world has changed considerably since then.  There is zero stigma in popular society to pre-marital sex or using birth control.  Religious communities still frown on it, but they're also strongly pro-life.

In that sense, the secular victory in the culture wars over sexual preference and promiscuity are the very things destroying the necessity for abortion.  Given the many, inexpensive and reinforcing methods of birth control that are available, there is simply no reason for the procedure other than the three classic exceptions: rape, incest, and life of the mother.

But for people stuck in the past, none of that matters - they're still fighting the battles of their distant youth.

Which is odd, given that so many of them identify as "progressive."


Welcome to the (secular) Poxy-clipse: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

It may seem strange to put it this way, but Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is arguably one of the more realistic depictions of the post-apocalyptic world.

Bartertown is a functional economy and (just as with Road Warrior) you get the crazy punk-meets-tribal look, only it is now more fully realized.   The use of livestock manure to supply natural gas for power generation is actually "a thing" these days and large scale operations can reach a remarkable degree of self-sufficiency.

We also see the progression from nomadic raiders to a growing settlement and a semblance of civilization.

One must make a special call-out to Tina Turner, who is exceptional as the matriarch of Bartertown.  I've said this many, many times before, but strong women in films is nothing new.  It is as old as film (and before that theater) itself.  Her portrayal is marvelous, and her discussion of how she was a "nobody" and is now "somebody" is a wonderful shorthand way to describe her rise to power.

There's also her undeniable presence, something sorely lacking in today's stars.  You can readily believe that she can gain and hold attention.

Amidst all the fun and now iconic phrases ("two men enter, one man leaves!"), there is a sour note that I missed when I saw it back in the 80s but now standing out like a flashing light: a complete absence of faith.

The Lost Children have learned their legend, and ascribed semi-divine power to an airline pilot, but what about God?  There's a reference in the memorial the parents left behind them, but that's it.

I suppose it is a sad commentary on Australian culture that even in 1985 no one would think that parents would teach children their prayers or a little scripture.  If they were trying to flee the urban nightmare, might not one have brought the family bible along with a recording of French lessons?

This hearkens back to something that The Lord of Spirits podcast brought up more than a year ago: the modern assumption that settlement patterns are driven entirely by economics, with religion being a later addition, a luxury item.

The origin for this notion is probably in the settlement of the American frontier - or at least the modern secular interpretation of it.  We see it in countless cowboy movies set in the Old West: the town starts has a tavern/general store, later a jail and then once civilization shows up, a church.

This completely ignores that fact that many settlements were actually built around missionary communities.  Indeed, the United States itself was in large part a refuge for religious communities - the Pilgrims, and later Catholics, Anabaptists, etc. - all came seeking freedom of worship rather than simply a chance to build a log cabin.

Even the Old West was shaped by this drive for religious freedom.  Utah exists in its present Mormon-heavy configuration because the practice of polygamy led to that faith's persecution east of the Mississippi. 

As much as we like to pretend otherwise, humans are spiritual creatures, incapable of existing outside of a moral framework.  Those who claim to be most secular have simply substituted their own divine code, which they delude themselves by thinking is "rational" or "science-based," but it really just a reflection of their own personal priorities.

It would be interesting to imagine a post-apocalyptic world with a religious element - mission settlements built around surviving churches or even a shrine commemorating a miracle during the Downfall.

This brings us to the great irony that Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome itself uses religious language ("Poxy-clipse") to describe the collapse of civilization without any thought to its deeper meaning.


The Road Warrior: fun, but also stupid

The Mad Max series gave a big boost to the genre of "post-apocalyptic" fiction.  Foremost among them was The Road Warrior, which veered away from the Death Wish style social commentary of the first movie and dove straight into life after civilizational collapse.

I'll be honest: this is a pretty stupid movie.  It has plot holes the size of semi trucks and all sorts of hand-waving to push things forward, but it has had a huge impact on the public imagination. 

Which is funny, because the story makes no sense.  For example, there is no reason the protagonists and Lord Humongous can't simple do some sort of barter trade.  Even the most violent barbarian peoples - the Mongols, the Huns, the Vandals, the Goths - were wiling to trade when it was profitable.

Also: where are the firearms?  No, I don't expect craft weapons, but they clearly have the metallurgy to soup up engines - machining barrels and bolts to make crude firearms is no great stretch.  In fact, we know these things exist in places like the Khyber Pass - which is a pretty anarchic place.

All that aside, the movie's distinct look has become part of popular culture, which means that even though it's deeply silly, it can't be classified as anything other than a smashing success.

Truth be told, the whole point of the film is to do a bunch of violent car wrecks.  That's what we really want to see and that's what we get.

There is also a lesson insofar as the people who work to overthrow the existing order often have no clear notion of what comes next.  In that sense, the plague of ultraviolent punk rocker biker dudes serve as a cautionary tale for our present age.