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 fading memories of Pearl Harbor

Today is the 80th anniversary of the "day that will live in infamy."  In times past, presidents would go to Pearl Harbor and deliver speeches, but so few veterans survive that the ceremonies are much less lavish than they were.

When I was growing up, the World War II veterans were in late middle age, still active but feeling their years.  The Korean War vets were just a touch younger, and conscious of the fact that all most people knew about their conflict was what they saw on M*A*S*H.

The Vietnam veterans were the young guys, some in their 20s, others in their early 30s.  They didn't fit in with the rest and made a point of wearing fatigues rather than dress uniforms for their reunions. 

There were still some World War I veterans around, but they were getting up there.

All of that has now changed with the passage of time.  The WW II generation is now fading fast, heading into the twilight like their Great War predecessors.  The Korean War vets are close behind, and the Vietnam vets are like the rest of the Boomers, feeling their age at last.

There is a scattering of Gulf War veterans, but that conflict was so brief and the losses so light, it's hard to think of it in the same way as the others.

A far larger cohort is my generation, which actually went from youth to middle age over the course of the seemingly endless Global War on Terror.  I don't know what kind of reunion we will have, if we ever have one.  There are no salient events like Pearl Harbor or D-Day to call us together again.

Very soon, Pearl Harbor will be as distant as the Argonne, or Gettysburg - an event with no living participants.

I think that was the thought behind Douglas MacArthur's famous statement that "old soldiers never die, they simply fade away."  Unlike their fallen comrades, they will pass quietly, individually, without much public notice.

I would be remiss if I did not recommend Tora, Tora, Tora for viewing if one is so inclined to learn more about the attack.


The ideal family-friendly strategy game

From time to time, I come up with various game designs.  Conqueror: Fields of Victory remains my only published work, but I lots of other projects in various stages of completion.

It seems to me that the ideal game should have some potential for direct conflict between players, use a little bit of resource allocation, including enough randomness to keep things interesting, and be finished in an hour or less.

That last part is key.  If a game is interesting but ends quickly, you can also give it another try.

Euchre - the semi-official card game of Michigan - is like that.  It's possible to do a couple of hands of Euchre in a few minutes.  In high school, people would do a hand or two between classes or a full-on game over lunch.

Perhaps I'm showing my age, but standard kit by my senior year was a Euchre deck in your backpack.  Find three other people, and it's game on.

That portability and ease of play was a major factor in the rise of games like Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon.  No need to set up a game board, place pieces and so on, just give me some table space and a pack of cards and we can sort things out.

One of George Lucas' many crimes against humanity was his decision to end the licensing agreement for the Star Wars Collectible Card Game.  This was a fun and very successful system, but Lucas had by this time bought out Hasbro (which had acquired his original merchandiser, Kenner) and he wanted to consolidate toy and game sales.  Hasbro by this point owned Wizards of the Coast, so they were directed at coming up with a suitable replacement that is entirely forgotten today.

At any rate, my mind is turning towards a new game design, and with the holidays coming up, the potential for playtesting is pretty good.

 


Charles Bronson gets mobbed up: The Valachi Papers

Stories of the Mafia were all the rage in the early 1970s, largely the result of the phenomenal success of Mario Puzzo's The Godfather. 

I'm sure there was also a bit of nostalgia at work as a result of the turbulence of the late 1960s.  Civic order broke down remarkably fast, and it's stunning to think how fast New York City went from the setting of Breakfast at Tiffany's to movies like Death Wish.

The Prohibition era was full of violence and drama, but with its repeal, the bootlegging industry was largely out of business.

At that point crime bosses settled into more cooperative arrangements, and it's interesting that the various films talk of "gang wars" but overall violent crime in the US bottomed out after World War II.  Part of what made the decades-long increase in crime so jarring was that it seemingly came from nowhere.

Thus, looking back at the days when even thugs wore hats and ties much have been comforting.

The Valachi Papers purports to be based on the testimony of a mobster-turned-informant, played by Charles Bronson.  Much of the story is told in flashback, and perspective shifts backwards and forwards in time as he tells his tale to the feds.

The fact that so much is in flashback necessarily reduces the tension of the film - obviously whatever scrape Bronson's in during the 40s or 50s will not result in his death.  

Like most of Bronson's work, it's a serviceable, entertaining film, but nothing particularly epic.  It is amusing how many of the same actors work with Bronson in films of this period. 

Very reminiscent of binge-watching Bogart films.


A wonderfully awful Thanksgiving

Before it became a retail-driven celebration of gluttony, the idea of a national day of thanksgiving was rooted in the understanding that we are owed nothing by our Creator. 

The years since 1945 (and particularly since 1991) have convinced many of us otherwise.   Western civilization has unconsciously absorbed the lie that peace and unprecedented prosperity are the default setting for humanity.  The fact that no other society has achieved our level of affluence is merely proof of their stupidity and our genius.  It's a secular form of Calvinism with us as the Elect.

The last two years have proven this belief badly wrong, and while I try to be optimistic, I do not see the trajectory changing any time soon. 

Violence will continue to rise, civil institutions will collapse and shortages of basic items will multiply and spread.  Even medicine, once the crown jewel of Western scientific knowledge, is in a state of collapse.

For all that, in fact because of that, I am more grateful this year than ever before.  I think it is fair to say that 2021 has already been the worst year my family has seen, but I am filled with joy when I think of God's many blessings.

Call it 'the attitude of gratitude' if you want, but once you change your assumptions to be that you deserve nothing, that everything you have is a gift, your entire worldview changes.

That's where I am.  A few weeks ago I confronted the nightmare that torments every parent - the death of a child.  It pleased God to ultimately spare me that trial, but standing in the hallway watching the emergency room staff play their trade with increasing urgency, I had to confront that awful possibility.

All I could do was pray, so that is what I did, saying the Hail Mary over and over again as I paced.  A calmness came over me, a peace that is hard to describe.  Several times since then I've felt overwhelmed and I've turned to Lorenzo Scupoli's prayer from The Spiritual Combat:  "My Lord and My God!  Holy Mary!  Do not abandon your soldier!  Help me in my need!"

(It works best when you say it out loud.)

And I was instantly comforted.

That's something to be thankful for.

I hope your day is filled with joy and that a reflection on the struggles of the past two years bring you the same peace that I have found.

Happy Thanksgiving!


The death of the 'slow news day'

I'm not sure when it happened, but some time ago news coverage shifted from a somewhat dry recitation of world events to breathless end-of-the-world pronouncements.

I remember watching the Evening News or World News Tonight or whatever and some days there just wasn't much going on.  On days like that, there were "human interest" stories that told about some inspirational person or a quirky event.

Part of the appeal of the movie Network was its concept of a network news division that went full-on tabloid-hysterical because the ratings were so good.  Howard Beale's rant was supposed to be comic excess, but it's now just another day at the office for media in 2021.

In Scoop, Evelyn Waugh poked fun at how bored reporters could try to gin up a crisis.  As was typical of his 1930s Smart Set books, he walked a fine line between credible satire and utter absurdity. 

Truth is of course stranger than fiction, and Waugh's imaginary Daily Beast is now an actual website (consciously named in imitation his work, of course).  It's just as unreliable.

This erosion of credibility was going on before the pandemic, but now it's pretty much a given that on any given day, some new item will be portrayed as the moral outrage of our time.

The problem is, when everything is a crisis, nothing is.

I think there's also a sense of people who no longer have a sense of history.  This is mated with the secularist vision of nothing more important than gratifying the need of the moment.   American culture has never been more obsessed with maintaining youthfulness or more terrified of death.

That's the counterpoint to the churn and burn on the front pages and the cable channels: the supermarket tabloids are running headlines that first premiered in the 1990s.

The Jennifer Anniston/Brad Pitt split happened decades ago, but it's still being updated.  I guess its comforting for people locked down and wearing masks to see that their entertainment idols are still the same as they ever were.

As for me, I'm limiting my news diet these days.  I decided to use some vacation this week, and I don't anticipate reading the news until Monday morning.   I'm looking forward to the break.


Loss of Legitimacy, Spanish Style

One of the crucial failures of the Second Spanish Republic was in maintaining a sense of law and order.  With the victory of the Popular Front, many of the Anarchist and Socialist movements began organized campaigns of theft, intimidation and murder against their political opponents.

The response of the Popular Front was largely to let it happen.  What this did was radicalize the center - not to become fascist, but to see the government as no longer legitimate.

This view spread abroad as well.  By mid-1936, the electoral shenanigans (forced re-votes that brought the Popular Front from a narrow majority to a 2/3rd one), systematic campaigns of church burnings, lynchings and land seizures gave the impression that the rule of law was completely lost in Spain.

The final straw was of course the murder of center-right politician Jose Calvo Sotelo.  It wasn't that a leading legislator was dragged out of his home at night and shot to death - it was that it was done by the police with impunity.

The halting, half-hearted conspiracy led by disgruntled generals was instantly galvanized into concrete action by the deed.  Fence-sitters like Fransisco Franco now realized that it was only a matter of time before they themselves were shot to death.  Better to die fighting.

At this point, the government's legitimacy was gone.  Everyday people who just wanted to get on with their lives and who otherwise took little interest in politics now pined for some relief from the growing fear and disorder.

As I pointed out in Long Live Death, the blow against the government's reputation was so powerful that instead of following established international law and allowing the recognized government to import arms, the League of Nations declared an embargo against both sides.

I mention this because a great many people think that foot-stomping and chanting "rule of law" somehow absolves lawless actors of their deeds.  It doesn't.  Even duly-elected governments are expected to conform to certain standards of justice.  The more these standards are perverted, the less legitimacy remains.

The great mistake of the Republic was not only in abandoning those standards be in flaunting their abandonment.  Calvo Sotelo's murderer wasn't even subjected to a fake trial.  Under the existing constitution (drafted by the left, by the way), sitting legislators had immunity from arrest.  Thus the crime blasted through every theoretical safeguard. 

The message was obvious:  "Even this person, protected with a special degree of legal immunity, can be cut down in cold blood.  No one is safe."

Was it not understandable that some people would then move to use their own extra-judicial means to guarantee their personal security?

It's also worth pointing out that July 19 Rising was originally claimed to be in defense of the Republic, not to overthrow it.  That came later.  This was a solid rhetorical move, because the Popular Front had no easy way to reply.  The Republic was dead, and they had destroyed it.

Historian Stanley G. Payne has repeatedly pointed out that the Popular Front didn't have to do what it did.  There were many opportunities for them to check their actions and these would likely have helped them both consolidate their power and avoid imminent conflict.

However, I think there's something about the rush of power that comes from openly flouting the rules with impunity that quickly becomes addicted.  Add to the fact that unstable people quickly gravitate to a movement that they think will allow them unlimited license and pretty soon all the guardrails will be removed.


Life without the Eucharist

Over the last few weeks, various events have kept me from attending Sunday Mass.  As a convert who doesn't want to be a total hypocrite, I take the requirement to attend Mass weekly seriously, so I'm unwilling to miss it without good reason.

I also try to attend some of the weekday services - not as a makeup, but rather so that I can have access to the Eucharist.

That was something I profoundly missed during the 2020 lockdown, and since then I've appreciated it far more than I did before.

It's one reason why I find myself more alienated than ever from Protestant services.  Without the actual presence of Christ, what's the point of the singing and speeches?  To me, it seems like nothing more than a pep rally, which I suppose is why so many mega churches' architecture suggests an rock concert arena rather than a sacred space.

Our parish (and presumably the rest of the diocese) has a long last returned holy water to the fonts around the sanctuary.  There are still plenty of masks, some of the pews remain blocked off for 'social distancing' but things continue to return to normal.  Still, it's been 18 months since any but the clergy have received the Precious Blood of Our Lord.  

Maybe that's part of God's plan to make us value the Eucharist in a way we never did before.  It's certainly worked with me.


My anti-Disney screed

I don't normally highlight my posts over at Bleedingfool.com that much, but my column excoriating modern - and especially Disney - films seems to have struck a chord.

While hardly a viral post, it got an unusually positive reception and this site saw a surge in traffic.

One can only conclude that I'm onto something.

I've been doing these retro-reviews for a while and I think they key difference between movies made decades ago and those of more recent vintage is simply that back then it was taken for granted that people in movies should behave like, um, actual people.

Now it's pretty much a given that people should behave like a Platonic Woke Ideal, that is - something that never was and never will be.

Flawless heroes demonstrate their flawlessness while also appearing Stunning and Brave.  The villains they face are a hitherto unknown combination of stupid, malevolent and impotent, which makes the triumph over them completely without any tension whatsoever.

When a rare film does allow something approximating reality to appear, it's shocking and seems at first glance to be better than it really is.  Alternatively, films that realistically portray human nature have to be steeped in irony lest anyone of the Woke Police denounce it as heresy.

Diminishing box office hauls and new funding sources for alternative entertainment indicate that we may be on the brink of a serious shift in cultural preferences.  We'll see.


A Day 'Up North'

Michigan has several geographic descriptors that mystify outsiders.

Some are pretty easy to figure out.  The "U.P." is the Upper Peninsula, and its inhabitants are "Yoopers."  When one speaks of going "north of the bridge," this is the Mackinaw Bridge, which links the two peninsulas together. 

There is no "L.P.", however.  That's "The Mitten," and everyone is happy to give you directions by pointing on their hand.

The Thumb is an obvious geographic feature, but one of the more ambiguous ones is "up north."  This vast expanse is essentially everything north of...something.  Typically Lansing, but no one thinks of Flint, Bay City or Saginaw as being really "up north."  They're too urban.

Most Michiganders look forward to a weekend or even a day spent "up north," and yesterday the family spent went up to Traverse City and spent the day (and evening) at a resort before returning south.  (There is no term for southern Michigan.  It's basically not "up north.")

There is something about being there that is simply relaxing.  It is rural, filled with natural beauty and things move a little slower.

Which is why we keep coming back.

 


The Feast of St. Martin of Tours - and Veterans Day

Today is the feast day of my patron saint, St. Martin of Tours.  As someone raised secular who gradually turned to the faith, I find the story of a soldier turned bishop compelling.

It is also Veterans Day, and the weather was quite nice.  The usual dozen people showed up at Memorial Park and this year I managed to play "Taps" without cracking a note.

I am not yet ready to retire from the military, but I already sense that this phase of my life is passing away.  I no longer think of my next promotion or next project, instead being content to help sustain the mission and contemplate what happens next.

One thing I am increasingly aware of is spiritual warfare.  I think that may be my next calling, but we shall see.  Certainly St. Martin did more good as a defender of the faith than he did as a Roman cavalryman.