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

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Reading Dom Lorenzo Scupoli's The Spiritual Combat

As part of my foray into mysticism and spiritual warfare, I picked up Dom Lorenzo Scupoli's Spiritual Combat (which in my edition is combined with A Treatise on the Peace of God).

The author's background is obscure, with the first four decades of his life being a blank slate.  It is only after he embraced a religious vocation that we hear of him, and this work (which was apparently modified several times after his death) was a favorite of St. Francis de Sales, the two having met between 1589 and 1591.

It consists of a series of short chapters, ranging from a paragraph to at most three pages in length on various topics, each mapping a path of victory in the spiritual combat against temptation and evil.

I think it reasonable to assume Scupoli was a soldier in his early life; his references to battle and soldierly life are unceasing - certainly not something a merchant or peaceful member of the landed gentry would be expected to know.  In a recent reading he remarks that when fighting against temptation, one might start to give way, which fine, but surrender is never acceptable.  He gives the graphic image of a warrior that is unable to bring the point of his blade to bear (crucial to penetrating the armor of the time) and so punches his foe with his hilt in order to force him back and regain his position.

I will give a fuller account when I've finished the whole thing, but this passage resonates with me because I've just had one such episode, and the temptation to go nuclear was almost unendurable.  So easy to burn a relationship in an reckless show of wrath!  Satisfying, too - in the short run.

But as Scupoli said, having felt myself losing, I decided to try to hang on, to let the storm pass and instead of turning to curses, utter some prayers instead.

And the wrath faded.  It was uncanny, but as the seconds ticked by, I could feel the anger dissipating.  It's now entirely gone, replaced instead by a desire to understand.  Freakish.

One might even call it miraculous.


Norm Macdonald and the humorless evangelical atheists

While I enjoyed some of Norm Macdonald's work, I could never be described as "a fan."  That is to say, I never sought him out or purchased anything related to him.

Still, I found him quite amusing and very surprised that he had been quietly battling cancer for years and never said anything about it publicly.  Celebrities typically shout their illness and hardships in their desperate and unending search for attention.  Macdonald was a noted exception.

He was also a man of faith.  He did not market himself as such, but when the topic came up, he was blunt and open about his beliefs - and not afraid to take on atheists.

Indeed, his passing seems to have caused the evangelical atheists to get rather worked up.  G.K. Chesterton has lots of things to say about them, and apparently strident annoying atheists date back to his time, the chief difference being that now they are more prevalent and powerful.

The crusader within me wants to smite these unwitting allies of the devil, but the thinking Christian mourns their despair.  They have no faith and it drives them mad to see other people with it living happy lives.  Note, that the lives need not be prosperous - in fact, nothing seems to set them off like seeing a devout person happily praying their way through a terminal disease.

As I've noted before, the fanatical devotion to healing rituals (masks, lockdowns, vaccines) is because these people have a deep fear of death.  It is the worst thing that can happen to them and so the rage at anyone who they think might steal a single second from them.

Macdonald not only kept his faith, he kept other people laughing.  Rest in peace.


More mysticism: Brant Pitre's Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist

Over the weekend I completed my second Brant Pitre book: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist.

This was the template for his book on the Jewish roots of Mary which I read earlier.  They are therefore very similar.

The tone if this book is less confrontational than the book on Mary and it focuses less on discrediting critics than it does on simply explaining the Catholic position.  That seems appropriate, particularly because the topic of the Eucharist goes pretty deep.

I suspect that another reason is that while Protestants generally disdain the Eucharist, they don't speak of it with the vitriol and contempt that the topic of Mary seems to bring forth.

To a "bible-believing Christian," the Catholic veneration of the Host is merely taking the scriptural bread and wine thing a bit far.  Mary, on the other hand, is considered to be a pagan goddess and her worship evidence of Catholic paganism.

I found both books useful, but the one on Mary was more polished, more conversational and had an edge to it that I enjoyed.


Rebelling in the name of tradition: G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy

I finally finished G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy.  It's an amusing read, has lots of great quotes in it and essentially lays out a relentlessly logical case for Christianity.

It speaks well of Chesterton's intellect that he chose to take his battle into the heart of enemy territory and fight the skeptics on the ground of their choosing.  In a series of related essays, he maps out the conventional secular and quasi-religious sentiments of the day and then destroys them.

What's interesting about his approach is that he doesn't confront them with direct rebuttals.  Instead he rhetorically gets out of their way and lets them wreck themselves.   Much of the book consists of him taking various tropes and platitudes and following them to their logical conclusion.

This is a powerful persuasive tool, and devastatingly effective against people who claim that objectivity, logic and facts are all on their side. 

The greatest weakness of the book is that I don't get many of the contemporary references.  There needs to be an annotated version in which the various thinkers, philosophers and politicians are explained in better detail so we know what exactly they wrote that Chesterton is addressing.

The best part of the book is of course his wit.  The man can turn a phrase and he's very similar to Evelyn Waugh in being able to slice someone apart in unexpected ways.  There's a passage where he addresses evolution and the neo-Darwinist concept of "higher forms of life" and notes that a German Philosopher mouse might well disagree that the cat is higher, and that life is so hateful, being eaten as soon as possible is actually a better outcome.

There are many ways to help people understand faith, and Chesterton is clearly going for the self-important crowd who are full of their own sense of intellectual superiority.  He absolutely wrecks them, and many of the claims he demolishes in this book are regrettably still being spread around by credentialed idiots who think they are the first people to come up with it.

In the present circumstances, it's essential reading.

I've also ordered his Heretics, which was the precursor to OrthodoxyHeretics is more of an attack, while Orthodoxy is technically an apologetic, outline the story of Chesterton's own conversion.  As noted, much of his conversion seems to be reactionary - he gave the popular viewpoint a try, and because it was so weak he knew it had to be wrong and the religious types deserved a closer look.

This is very similar to my experience with not just religion but many other beliefs.  In my zeal to defend my position, I study it closely enough to realize that it's spectacularly weak. 

Perhaps because its a refutation and pure attack, Heretics is less popular, but it was the genesis for Orthodoxy, so I'm looking forward to reading it.


College football returns

I don't watch the NFL.  I'm a Lions fan.

I do, however, enjoy a bit of the college game.  In fact, I used to really enjoy it, watching 12 hours of games each Saturday.

In 2015, I had an unpaid gig as a guest writer on a Big Ten fan site called Off Tackle Empire.  I guess it's still around, but the parent company got downsized.

Anyway, the grind of doing a column each week (without remuneration!) burned me out.  I watched only a couple of games in 2016 before giving it up entirely.  Since MSU's team went into the tank, my timing was perfect.

As a result of that experience, I decided football was something best watched in limited quantities.  I cut the cable, canceled the dish and now I use a portable antenna which sits in a cabinet for most of the year.

I get only a few games, often ones I could care less about, but those are often more enjoyable to watch precisely because you don't get upset when your team loses because you have no team.

The fans seem happy, as do the announcers.  I notice there are a lot fewer commercial breaks, so the games are an hour shorter.  That was another reason I quit:  you'd get two plays and then break for commercial.  Going to a game in person was really obnoxious with all that idleness.

I'm sure viewership was suffering as was in-person attendance, which is where college sports really make their money.  Ticket prices vary by program, but if you get 50,000+ folks to pay to see something, you're bringing in millions of dollars.

I will probably attend the annual alumni gathering in a few weeks, so another fall ritual will be resumed.

The world is still going crazy, but it's nice to have a few touchstones remain in place.


Abortion, AIDS, Covid and shifting views on divine judgement

While American society is heavily secularized, it retains a lot of the theoretical framework that has its origins in Christianity.  One of the strongest (and paradoxically most overlooked) is that of Calvinism.

Calvinism (or Reformed Christianity as it's sometimes styled) holds that God's favor can be known in this life by visible, tangible signs.  The Elect or Anointed are there for everyone to see - their prosperity, good looks, life advantages - are proof of God's blessing.  This religious view has been secularized into a "meritocracy" where the people born into wealth and privilege are owed it through their own merit.

There are several heresies involved in this worldview and it is in direct conflict with the traditional (that is Catholic/Orthodox) view that the mortal life is but preparation for what comes after.  Devout, believing and beloved children of God may suffer terribly in mortal life, but that is part of their purification.  To the meritocrats and the Calvinists, there is no benefit to suffering in the here and now.  Bad things happening are instead a call for immediate purification so that blessings can return.

This view permeates our language and our discourse, and right now it is at a fever pitch.

I find it fascinating that abortion proponents constantly speak of women being "punished" with a child as a consequence of having sex.  There is genuine outrage that men don't give birth and have to bear the same burden.  Despite many different and effective ways to prevent pregnancy, there is a fanatical devotion to this secular sacrament, which is seen as the last line of defense for ultimate individual autonomy.

Of course, no one gets pregnant alone, and not too long ago, there was a reason sex was supposed to take place after marriage (or at least after betrothal).  A "ruined woman" was seen as fitting punishment for immorality.

The legalization of abortion was therefore a welcome liberation from the "oppression" of biology.   Women could now be as immoral as the wanted.

Similarly, when the AIDS epidemic swept through the homosexual community, the same people insisted that one could not even think it was divine judgement.  A sexually transmitted disease that was most easily spread through religiously proscribed sexual behavior was simply a thing that happened and enormous resources would have to be expended not only to cure it, but in the interim, the risk-taking behavior could not be curbed.

It's interesting to note that the State of California has decriminalized passing the disease to a sexual partner without their consent.  No harm, no foul.

In both these cases, cause and effect are irrelevant, and all right-thinking people" know that to draw lines indicating how immoral behavior can beget negative consequences is hateful nonsense.

Thus it is interesting to see how one's Covid vaccination status has become a great exception to this belief.  Unvaccinated (or maskless) people who die of the disease are widely mocked as getting what they deserve.

It's divine judgement, and cause and effect are now operative.

My point by the way is not to highlight hypocrisy, but to note that in all three instances, the underlying framework remains Calvinist.  In the first two examples, the goal is to escape punishment, which is presumably not from God but rather from the Devil.  Women not being able to abort children is evil, an infringement on their God-given freedom to have absolute control over their bodies.

Similarly the AIDS epidemic could not be permitted to change the homosexual lifestyle because freedom is the highest value, even above stopping a once-incurably fatal disease.

Yet now the righteousness is on the other side, with anti-vaxxers being justly struck down for their impiety.

While the examples are contemporary, the issue is not new.

G.K. Chesterton's writing reveals that this mentality has been around for a while, chiefly being a function of unprecedented prosperity.  People can draw various philosophical lines on how thought progressed, but the key ingredient was leisure time and increased material comfort.

Evelyn Waugh's dark satires of the Smart Set illustrated the moral bankruptcy, and it was not until his later work that he began to look at how religious people can co-exist in this environment.

I plan on incorporating this into my writing on the spirit world.  As others long before me have pointed out, unbelievers don't necessary lack faith, they simply place it before something besides God. 


The surprise ending

Arguably the greatest challenge to contemporary writers is coming up with a way to make an ending both surprising and plausible.

Game of Thrones failed spectacularly in this respect, and Star Wars did the same.  I think the first big whiff was The Matrix, but plenty of shows start with a bang and end with a whimper.

Of course, sometimes life imitates art, and while this blog generally avoids the pointless churn of political commentary, certainly the last chapter of American involvement in Afghanistan was entirely unexpected.

On the other hand, historians tend to look at wars as wholly contained narratives.  War was declared on this date and ended on the other date, and anything beyond those bookends is beyond the scope of most conventional books.

Sometimes one has to look outside those confines, because in real life, the end of one story necessarily leads to another.  The characters change, the plot lines switch around, but the tale never ends.

J.R.R. Tolkien brought this up in Lord of the Rings, at one point having Sam Gamgee reflect that the stories told of the Elder Days in the Last Homely House had continued down to the present day and that he and Frodo were part of the same plot line that ran back to Beren and Luthien.

And so it is.  As Tolkien also noted in his timeless work, victories and defeats are at best transitory.   Time passes and new challenges emerge.

What is surprising to people at the time will likely seem a foregone conclusion to future generations.

All one can do in such circumstances is do what any solid character would do: muddle through and carry on as best as possible.  It may not be satisfying drama, but then again the story isn't finished and in real life, the actors rarely get to see the final result of their effort.

 

 


The joy of miniatures

A few weeks ago I noted that I was rediscovering my interest in Warhammer 40,000.   The necessary first step was revisiting the baseline post for the game on this site, which includes a series of rules changes/clarifications that improve what I consider to be the definitive edition, the 2nd.

I should clarify that I'm not one of those people that enjoy painting miniatures for their own sake.  I paint to play, period.  Absent a gaming environment, I wouldn't own any models at all.  The only model kits I retain from my childhood are the ones I adapted to use in wargaming.

That being said, if I know a game is coming up, I will throw myself into the act of creation and few things bring me more joy that watching a unit go through the process of acquisition, assembly, priming, painting and final finishing.  My painting table had languished for months, collecting various sundry items I was too lazy to put elsewhere, but now the main space is cleared and groups of models are staged around it, waiting their turn.

Amidst the current turmoil, it's a welcome escape to put on some music and focus my thoughts entirely on what shade of blue will suit the unit of Swooping Hawks I am working on.  Yes, the Eldar army is my current focus.  While I remain a 2nd ed. loyalist, I have no particularly affinity for Games Workshop's overpriced kits.  Many of my armies are built around equivalent figures from other manufacturers.

For example, my Imperial Guard is largely WW II historical models, and I've used some creative color choices on weapons finish and the rim of the base to indicate weapon types in the 40k environment.  The armored vehicles are modified Tamiya kits and these have been more extensively altered to feature weapon sponsons, crash bars and other features necessary for combat ops in the Grim Dark Future.

The determinative factors for me are cost and aesthetic.  For example, my Tyranid army is only a few years old, the last one I collected.  It is exclusively made of GW figures because these fit the bill and older kits are now selling for very reasonable prices.  My Eldar, on the other hand, is almost entirely Void models. 

Void was a short-lived competitor to Warhammer 40,000 that collapsed after a very ambitious launch sometime in the Aughts.  The parent company's demise (i-kore) coincided with worsening economic conditions in Michigan, and the result was many of the independent hobby stores went out of business.  As a result, I was able to buy a huge collection of figures for pennies on the dollar.  The Void aesthetic was more streamlined and less steampunk than GW's, so these models worked well as the advanced but declining Eldar. 

In fact, I only recently bought some actual Eldar models (jet bikes).  Again, prices for older edition kits are now quite reasonable, even as the current game's prices soar.

It's axiomatic that miniatures collections are never "finished."  People might sell them off, or they might stop using them, but no one ever proclaims the thing complete.   There's always room for one more model - and in fact, there's probably more than one model that still needs to be assembled or painted at any given time.

This means that if you take a month or a year off, when you come back, there's something ready and waiting for you to work on, which is nice.


Ave Maria! Brant Pitre's Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary

When I began my religious instruction on the teachings of the Catholic Church, I admit that I was a little leery of the veneration accorded Mary, the mother of Our Lord.

Part of it was the residual Protestantism that still pervades American society, but there was also a profound misunderstanding of the difference between veneration, worship and intercession.  My instructor broke it down in the simplest terms: if you want a guy to do you a favor, it sure helps if his mother is also asking him to do it as well.

In many ways, I'm a very simple man, and that explanation was really all I needed to say the "Hail Mary" with confidence.  I knew that there was much more in terms of sacred scripture and Church tradition, but that merely served as fodder for me to debate unbelievers - personally I was already sold.

Oddly, there are a number of Protestants who have serious problems with this.  Some even fancy themselves Bible scholars.  I've taken a few pot shots at these charlatans before, but Brant Pitre has provided me with an arsenal of theological thermonuclear warheads.

He has written a short, informative book on the topic: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary.  It is a quick read, and somewhat repetitive, but it is set up that way to ensure that even the most casual reader can understand his point.

What he does is take the usual arguments against Mary's significance and not only nuke them, but make the rubble bounce before making their shadows glow.  It is a methodical clearing operation, and by the time he's done, there's nowhere for the "Mary skeptics" to stand.

For those who aren't fanatically opposed to Catholic teachings, Pitre could probably have just written a long essay, but he's actually trying to reach non-believers, which is laudable.

His tone is generally mild, but he does get in some jabs when they are absolutely necessary.

And to be honest, they are.  For 1,500 years the Catholic and Orthodox Churches venerated the Holy Virgin, and then one day an angry Augustinian monk decided he knew better.

I see in this a precursor to the current plague of presentism, which is the idea that everyone who came before the current enlightened generation was really, really stupid.  It is a particularly corrosive form of pride.

When the intellectual battlefield shows Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Athanasius and countless other intellectual giants on one side vs someone with a King James translation, I think the struggle is pretty uneven.

And indeed, Pitre reminds us that Mary's critics generally don't know what they don't know.  They disdain "non-canonical" works as if they have nothing to teach, when they are in fact essential to understanding Church history.  A well-versed student of the topic should not just consult what Protestants consider the Apocrypha, but also Roman and Greek historians as well.

Pitre does this, and in a couple hundred pages creates an unassailable document that should reassure the faithful and give heretics some pause.


Comparing The Year of Living Dangerously with The Killing Fields

I've fallen out of the habit of cross-posting my articles from bleedingfool.com, but I think it's necessary in this case because what I wrote about The Year of Living Dangerously goes to the heart of what I didn't like about The Killing Fields.

I'm going to assume by now that you've checked out the article and move on with my critique of The Killing Fields.   The films are of course quite similar, being about the spread of Communism in Asia during the Cold War.

In fact, they films bookend Vietnam, with The Year of Living Dangerously taking place in 1965 while The Killing Fields begins in 1973.

Both center around Western journalists striving to get the truth out to the larger public.  However, the portrayal of them is profoundly different.

The journalists in Indonesia are, as I've noted, a bunch of heavy-drinking perverts.  They may be good at their craft, but they are hardly role models.

By contrast, Cambodia's press establishment is remarkably noble and altruistic, particularly Sam Waterston's Sam Schanberg.  The only hint of criticism he gets his how failed to ensure the safety of his translator/friend Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor, who is amazing) and reaped the benefits of the subsequent publicity.

In fact, while approving of the subject matter, I found the presentation of The Killing Fields to be heavily at odds with the facts.  I get that by 1984, there was still a lot of Nixon hate out there, but it's obvious that the production team has let it completely cloud their judgement.  Late in the film Schanberg admits that the Khmer Rouge were worse than he thought, but then tries to blame Nixon for radicalizing them!

Uh, no.  Every single time Communists take control of a country they kill off huge numbers of people. (In Spain, they couldn't even wait until they won the civil war.)

The Khmer Rouge were just really good at it.  The notion that the Communists would have been peaceful and inclusive if only those pesky Americans weren't there is nonsense on stilts.

It;s possible that his answer isn't an attempt to preach but instead shows how far removed from reality his thought process has become.  I suppose there's also implied criticism in how Schanberg sits in his comfy chair talking about mailing photos while his dear friend eats lizards and climbs over corpses.

Even understanding the difficulty of the logistics at the time, I can't wonder why Schanberg didn't go to the refugee camps and write about them personally, maybe mount a vigil for his friend there rather than rage-watching Nixon administration footage while listening to his high-fidelity stereo.

The most tone-deaf moment in the film is when Schanberg is reunited with Pran and the production team plays of all things John Lennon's "Imagine."  Seriously?!

The Khmer Rouge was the embodiment of everything in the song!   They denied God, wiped out family ties and literally made everyone live for the day, every day.  The fact that their "brotherhood of man" was a nightmare only illustrates the inevitable outcome of nihilistic fantasies.

My resulting rage stroke almost wrecked the movie for me.

I will re-watch The Killing Fields at some point, looking for greater detail.  Also, the dialog wasn't very clear in places, so I'm sure I missed things.

Even so, The Year of Living Dangerously is a much better film.  The characters are more fully developed and the moral questions are presented with greater skill and complexity.  The Killing Fields gets very preachy at times, which it doesn't need to be.  The story speaks for itself, we don't need Waterston's sermonizing to make the point for us.