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

 


Yard sign Calvinism

Time was, people put yards signs up for three reasons: the house was for sale, an election was about to happen, or they wanted you to know who re-paved their driveway.

But over the last few years I've noticed a different category of yard signs - they don't tell you to vote for anyone or even advocate a specific policy, they are simply there to let you know the property owner's beliefs.

Some of them even say that, providing a secular credo cribbed from bumper stickers that used to appear on the rusting exteriors of college-town Volvos.

I'm not the first person to notice that much of what animates the modern American left is a secularized form of Calvinism.  Thomas Sowell beat me to it decades ago, but the traditional Elect were a bit more subtle in advertising their self-righteousness (okay, the "In the case of the Rapture, this car will be empty" bumper stickers were a bit much).

Calvinism is a frequent target of the Lord of Spirits podcast, and justly so.  John Calvin took the Lutheran concept sola fides to its irrational extreme and modern secularists have run with it.  If faith alone can provide salvation, then simply announcing one's virtuous beliefs demonstrates moral superiority in the secular realm.

One of my favorite signs is one that reads:  "Wherever you are from, you're welcome to be our neighbor," which appears in English, Spanish and (presumably) Arabic.  I like it because I see them in the yards of houses that cost $300,000 or more.  Clueless irony is the best irony.

Another point of amusement (which is only possible if you live in the same neighborhood for a while) is when these houses are put up for sale, the virtue-signalling signs disappear.  The contractor ones can stay ("see, we just repaved the driveway"), but the owner is willing to mute their self-righteousness to recoup their investment.

I mean, the sign already proved their virtue.  Now they're just trying to sell the house.


Back to China!

I've gotten back to work on my China book, boosted by some excellent finds at Curious Books (and it's satellite site, The Archives).

I think the various loose threads were getting to me and the fact that the Sui and Tang dynasties are pretty straightforward in their rise and fall is helpful.

I'm also resolved to just plowing forward at this point and accept that there are gaps that will be filled later.  New books will pop up or I'll get a question and have to go back and find out more about it.

And yes, I've already found instances where my initial take was exactly wrong.

Looking ahead, I know the 20th Century is going to be pretty complex, so I'm doing sidebar reading on that area already. 

I'm still hoping to have most of a draft ready by spring, but things have moved so unevenly, I'm not sure if any timeline I can come up with is viable.


A little vacation from China

Writing the last chapter of my book was a real chore.  The period between the fall of the Han Dynasty and the reunification of China under the Sui and then the Tang is pretty complex, and I was moving at a crawl.

I've finally finished and feel the need to get away from it for a few days.

I found Long Live Death very easy to write, but I was also dealing with a much narrower topic.  China's history is a lot broader, and trying to be focused takes a lot more effort.  Not only that, there's the language and name difficulties.

I'm also working on the index as I go which is slowing my down now, but should save me time on the back end because I won't have to go back through the manuscript to build it from scratch.

My timeline for completion is slipping a bit as a result, but since I don't have a firm deadline, it's somewhat irrelevant.  I was hoping to have the draft done by March, but that was when I thought I'd have 20,000 pages by the end of 2021.  I'm still 5,000 pages short of that goal.  I'm thinking April-May might be more realistic.


Die Hard 2: Plot Holes the size of Dulles Airport

I think I'm done with the Die Hard franchise.  The first one was fun and original, but the second was just a bit much.

I'm not looking for gritty realism, just something remotely plausible.  The entire 'hostage drama' would have solved by using a pay phone and calling another airport.

A particular lowlight was Bruce Willis' character saying that the 'terrorists' have "Glock 7" pistols, made of ceramic and invisible on airport scanners.

Ah, yes, the plastic gun thing.  I'd forgotten about that.  Do I even need to point out that Glocks have polymer frames but the barrel and slide are metal?  Or that the ammunition is also metal?

Yes, I know action movie.  But it's a particularly stupid action movie, which is annoying.  Another bit: everyone carries M-16s like they're in a Vietnam film, waving them all over the place.  Neat.

There is the usual social commentary about the media being whores, and of course it takes place at Christmas (but like the original is not a Christmas movie).

I'm not even going to say it's a worthwhile time-waster because it's not.  Any one of the Death Wish movies would be a better way to go.


Fogelberg's "Same Auld Lang Syne" is not a Christmas song

I freely admit that this issue is an order of magnitude less important than the lame argument that Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but having heard the song for the first time in a while over New Year's, I feel compelled to weigh in.

I am of course referring to Dan Fogelberg's winter of 1980 hit, "Same Auld Lang Syne."  If you aren't familiar with the tune, take a listen.  Yes, it's vintage 1970s easy listening (complete with overdubbing), but lyrically it is spot on.

It remains popular, but while the events of the song (which are based on an actual encounter Fogelberg had with his ex-girlfriend) take place on Christmas Eve, the song is really about the passage of time, not the coming of Christ the King.

I particularly like the structure of the song, which efficiently sketches a scenario that is both specific but also relatable.    The refrain is also sparingly and includes some lyrical variations, adding to the casual feel.  Finally, an instrumental solo at the end - which could have been a Christmas melody - instead reminds us once again of years gone by.

The drive to link films with obviously incorrect these is in large part a social media stupidity, where bored journalists and commentators while the hours away between spurts of fake outrage over trivialities.  One could, using the same logic, argue that The Big Chill is a college football movie, since it takes place during the fall, the cast actually plays football and is engrossed in the outcome of the Michigan-Michigan State game.

But of course that's not what it is about at all, and while it betrays a spiritual bleakness, it also is a well-crafted character portrait.  That's because it was based on actual events.

I've said it many times before, but art drawn from specific experiences inherently has more power than something created out of pure imagination.  It contains "the ring of truth," and the author's exposure to the actual circumstances of the event ensure that it presented with the proper sensitivity.

One reason why modern productions are so awful is the loss of life-experience.  Increasingly our creative class knows only what it has seen in videos or read online.  They are also chained to a series of politically correct tropes which have no basis in reality.

The truth is that life is messy and often filled with contradictions. 

This is how it is possible to simultaneously be happy with one's situation, yet still feel a pang of regret for things that didn't work out long ago.

 

 


Winter Weather

There is something invigorating about sub-zero temperatures.  Maybe it's the imperative to keep warm, or find some extra blankets.

There's also the abstract shapes of blowing snow, drifts forming and shifting, that mesmerizes.

The time after the new year is often depressing, with little sunlight and bitter cold, but I find it refreshing in a way.  With deep cold one also gets bright clear blue skies, which are unusual in Michigan winters.  Usually, it's a sullen overcast with few gleams of light, but when the mercury reaches single digits, the sun comes and and throw a blinding light off the snow.

I don't know that I will ever be able to leave winter behind.  After nearly a half-century here, I understand why people want a break, and I'm much less eager to drive through the snow and ice as I used to be.

Slush and freezing rain I can do without, but the profound quiet of winter is something I don't think I could live without.


Goodbye 2021, Hello 2022

While I try to look on the positive side of things, it is difficult for me to look back at 2021 fondly. 

Setting aside the political environment and deteriorating economy, there has been a great deal of anguish for those near and dear to me.   It is very easy to look at the year as an unmitigated disaster and wallow in the comforting but self-defeating waters of pessimism.

That is why it is so important to seek out good news.  In fact, there is a lot of goodness out there, if one only looks a little deeper.

For example, 2021 saw the birth of my grandson, hopefully the first of many.  He is an absolute joy, milder in temper than his sister, and rapidly gaining on her in size.

Despite the constant drumbeat of pandemic, none of my elder relations succumbed to the disease and while our holiday gatherings were postponed yet again, there is hope that someday we will be together again.  This also encouraged me to spend time with my other, less reclusive relations, which was something that otherwise wouldn't have happened.

Spiritually, I have gained a deeper understanding of my faith and that has been a great blessing.  I think for all the pain of 2021's challenges, our family is closer than it was a year ago.

All in all, I think what we should all strive to do is remember the joy and leave behind the pain.  Too often we do the opposite, clinging to disappointments when we should let them go, remembering them only as an obstacle we faced and survived.

Here's to a blessed new year.

 


Christmas with Confucius

The pace of my writing has slowed to a crawl.  The reason is that I'm doing a lot of research and want to get things sorted about before I press forward.

Specifically, I've been digging into Chinese religion and philosophy because I think these are vital reasons for the historically poor performance of their military.  Faith can inspire otherwise mediocre troops to incredible feats of heroism.

Conversely, massive armies can simply collapse if they lose confidence in their cause.

I just finished the Analects of Confucius, which I found quite interesting.  This collection of short sayings is part of the foundation of Chinese culture.  The book is relatively short, somewhat repetitive, and is essentially a set of short vignettes or one sentence statements about moral problems, what constitutes virtue and how the world should work.

Approaching it from a Catholic perspective, it seems very heavy on outward forms, and while it contains a version of the Golden Rule, this sentiment is surrounded by a lot of ethically troubling ideas.

First and foremost, it is elitist to the core, and takes for granted that rulers are just inherently better than the common people.  True, it admonishes the ruling class to care for them, makes a point about working for the good of humanity, but there's no imperative attached to this.

To put it another way, salvation (such as it is), is generated within oneself, not achieved by divine grace.  The gods are owed rituals, sacrifices and all must be done very properly with respect and formality.  If not, calamities can result.

However, there is also a notion of "destiny," which means that even noble and good people can die without warning because Heaven has decreed that fate for them.  One can never prevail against fate.

This is where fortune-telling comes into play.  This is also a large part of traditional Chinese culture, and if one can know one's destiny, it obviously is helpful (certainly where life insurance is concerned).

Honestly, it reminds me very much Calvinism, with the "gentleman scholar" assuming the role of the Elect.  The vast majority of Chinese have no hope of joining this class, and those that are privileged with literacy and leisure time are obviously chosen by fate to be above everyone else.  That is their destiny.

So it is that while Confucius urges humility and benevolence to the poor, they are also expected to obey their betters, who - just as the Calvinists believe - are singled out by Heaven with unique blessings.

This surely helped create the attitude that Europeans described as "fatalism," a sense among the Chinese elite that events were beyond their effective control.  It also helped breed a certain degree of selfishness: "I'm living properly, doing everything as the Master described, so my conscience is clear."

Next up is the Tao Te Ching, which I've read before, but I'm sure my perspective will be different.

 

 


Paganism in the 21st Century

Since for Catholics like me, the Christmas liturgical season is just getting started, I have no need to modify my Christmas wishes to all of you by adding "belated."  I can simply wish you a "Merry Christmas" like normal, since there are almost two weeks of Christmas left to go.

This may seem like a strange time to bring up paganism, but I can't think of a more appropriate circumstance given the state of the world today.

Christmas itself has been warped into a retail holiday, something even irreligious people observe by taking time away from work, gathering with friends and family, and of course exchanging gifts.

There was a time within my memory that people who were not Christian (or were part of one of the more obscure heretical sects) pointedly did not celebrate Christmas, and that was why "Christmas Concerts" became "Winter Concerts" or "Holiday Concerts."  But I digress.

Driving home from the early Mass yesterday, a new thought occurred to me.  For many years I believed that pagans were just superstitious and that when they offered sacrifices, cut upon animals to gaze upon the entrails and approached oracles, it was one giant con by the elites against the rubes.  Thanks to The Lord of Spirits Podcast, I now understand that those 'gods' were real insofar as they could influence events and offer advice.

This is why ancient Israel was constantly tempted to break their covenant with God and participate in pagan rituals - they actually worked!

Of course another reason was that the pagan code of ethics was generally more permissive of sin - in fact it regarded some sins as virtues.  Some of the pagan philosophers advocated humility, but in practice the bigger the ego, the bigger your following.  Yes, they saw a relationship between hubris and nemesis, but so long as you kept sacrificing to the gods, nemesis could be kept at bay.

At least that was the thinking.

In any event, my revelation was this: growing up, I wondered why people would truly become Wiccan in light of the fact that it was mostly made-up and the practitioners I knew didn't seen happy or well off - the two traditional signs of divine favor across almost all cultures.

And then it hit me: their prayers were in fact being answered, and in exactly the way they wanted.

The Wiccans I knew seemed to want three things from their faith.  First, they wanted to get back at their traditional (often Dutch Reformed) parents.  Wicca was about as bad as they could be.

Second, they wanted absolute sexual license, and this they got.  The Goddess (or whoever) absolutely blessed them with frequent and (in theory) very intense erotic encounters. 

Finally, they wanted a moral framework that absolved them of guilt while placing their will and desires at the center of what is great and good.  This may seem like a repetition of the second point, but every Wiccan I've known (even the "incel losers" for you modern cool kids) was into the 'pansexual' component of their faith.

What these people did not get were stable, wholesome relationships, or inner peace, or a sense of true salvation or prosperity, or any of the markers that I would seek.  They got drama, and lots of it and they seemed to feed off of it.  I'm not sure how they turned out, though I know a few who 'grew out of it' and returned to Christ.

My point is that while they didn't explicitly articulate those goals, those were their goals and their prayers for those goals were in fact answered.  Whether you choose to believe it was through behavioral choices or the offices of a Fallen Angel masquerading as "The Goddess" (or a combination of both, which is my belief), that's fine, but the outcome is unmistakable.

This was yesterday morning.  Yesterday evening I got word that one of my relatives had renounced Christianity and become pagan.  Right over the holidays!  How splendid.

The reason was she placed a premium on approving sexual license.  The homosexual and transsexual agendas are very important to her (she is neither, btw), and she felt that Christianity was wrong to condemn these behaviors.  Instead, she came up with a theory of reincarnation where people are reborn into the wrong bodies and struggle to reconcile the difference.

I give her points for not doing the Anglican thing and just ignoring the Biblical texts that contradict her views.  She's at least being honest in that respect.

But I think one can see what else is going on - that when faced with a conflict between current societal views (which are less than 25 years old) and ancient laws of faith, she throws the faith away.

This is how the Israelites consistently strayed - they wanted to fit in.  There was no logic to their actions, just as there is no logic in play here.  It's a religion made up on the fly and molded to justify whatever social pressures arise.

This malleability of faith features prominently in the writings of G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh and (in a more veiled form) those of J.R.R. Tolkien.  (It's interesting that the great villains of Middle Earth are Fallen Angels - Sauron, Saruman, and the Balrogs.)

Needless to say, we will pray for her and hope to bring her back to Christ.  I think many people have to stray and take a hard look at the alternatives to the Church before they appreciate what she has to offer.  Certainly I did.


Die Hard is definitely not a Christmas movie

For the first time in many years, last night I re-watched the original Die Hard.

It was quite good, and like many iconic action films, part of what makes it so popular is its pointed social commentary.   Whereas Death Wish and Dirty Harry offered trenchant criticisms on the passive response of politicians to rising crime and societal breakdown, Die Hard not only offers a critique of career-obsessed married mothers but also the colossal ineptitude of both police leadership and the FBI.

That puts it in the first rank of action films and the four sequels prove that it found a repeat audience.

However, that doesn't mean it's a Christmas film.

I'm not sure where this started, but it's taken on a life of its own, likely because when it's taking a break from ruining peoples' lives, social media likes to indulge in heated debates about trivial topics.

Since I rarely use social media, I tuned this out and when the topic came up, I ignored the discussion because I hadn't seen it in so long.  However, with my recent viewing I think it's blindingly obvious that the only Christmas element in it is the time of year.

The terrorist/robbery caper was set to take advantage of an empty building and lax law enforcement presence,  and a Christmas party offered the perfect opportunity.

That's it.  There are perfunctory Christmas references but only because that's what people say at that time of year.

In that sense, it's a Christmas movie in the sense that every film about the Battle of the Bulge is a Christmas movie, because that's when the combat took place.

No one experiences a change of heart relating to the season, no one's faith is strengthened, no one undergoes a Scrooge-like transformation.  There is zero spiritual growth.  Yes, the McClane's reconcile, but that's a trope out of The Love Boat, not a Christmas message.

*Those of you who read my Geek Guns feature on John McClane's Beretta 92F will note that I do in fact make a passing reference to the film being a "timeless Christmas film," but I think it was pretty clear I was being ironic.