Weblogs

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.

 


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.

 


November

I experience a certain amount of sadness when Halloween is over and November comes around.  When I was young, it was the natural denouement of having a bag full of candy after a night of costumed fun.

As I got older, however, I realized that it was also the division between the two phases of autumn.

The first phase is marked by a bite in the evening air, a welcome chill that helps you sleep with the windows open.  The weather is still warm, but the leaves are starting to change and you get that familiar nostalgia for the Good Old Days.  As someone who spent eight years in marching band, early fall has a particular resonance, and I look back with fondness on the anticipation and consummation of the football season.

The second phase, however, is less benign.  The weather worsens, the sky darkens, daylight fades and everything takes on a glum, bare appearance.  Late autumn is truly depressing: brown grass, bare trees, and cold rain.

There is a reason that the onset of winter is actually anticipated in northern climates.  A fresh blanket of snow covers up the drab detritus of the past summer and the soggy ground becomes hard once more.  The time for skiing and sledding is once more at hand, and Christmas is closing in.

But in between, it's a pretty depressing landscape.  That's the part I dread.


Geek Guns ain't dead yet

While I don't normally do "link posts" to my work over at Bleedingfool.com, some of my readers might be interested to know that I added a new installment to the Geek Guns series, this one centering on Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum (Smith and Wesson Model 29).

The feature ran for 23 straight weeks before I took a break, and while I don't have a follow-up series planned, I will continue to add new installments as the opportunities present themselves.

The primary challenge is of course access to iconic weapons.  For example, I'd love to do a feature on the Colonial Marine weapons from Aliens, but I don't know anyone with a Thompson submachinegun (which is what those were).  I guess I need to hang out with a wealthier crowd.

 


We Apologize for the Interruption of Service

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

But you'd be wrong.

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

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

So at least we have that, which is nice.


Clueless civilians talking about military stuff

I'm not one of those poeple who makes a fetish out of military service.  To me, it's a job like anything else.  To be sure, it can be very dangerous and very necessary, but for the most part it's tedious and not particularly exciting.

The experience of military service has many benefits, though, and one of the ones I've come to appreciate is a better understanding of history.  I generally enjoy watching some of the history buffs on youtube offer their opinions, and often they are smarter than the "professional" historians.  However, sometimes they are wrong in a very civilian way.

Lest anyone accuse me of arrogance, I will freely admit that I was just like them.  I didn't enlist until my mid-20s, so I had plenty of time to beclown myself in various ways, both in analysis and fiction.  A lot of what I thought I knew from books and movies was just flat-out wrong.  There were some things that I had correct, but for the wrong reason.

Just to be clear, I'm not talking about the experience of battle of which I have none.  I'm speaking of the culture, how leadership works, and the minutae that seem insignificant but actually make up a huge part of service.

I'm also going to acknowledge that there are historians who don't fall into this trap.  I'm speaking specifically of people who simply assume that they're smarter than everyone else who came before them.

A great example of this is uniforms and equipment.  It's hard for people who have never had to carry or wear certain gear in a certain way to understand how much you come to hate it.  Civilians relish wearing helmets, masks, uniforms, belts, etc. but people who are compelled to can't wait to take the stuff off.  There is a reason modern body armor actually comes with labels saying "ALWAYS WEAR THIS!  DON'T TAKE IT OFF!"

Civilians look at that and shake their heads in confusion, but it's pretty simple: the stuff is heavy, can trap heat and unless you think you need it right now, it's more comfortable to have it off.  That goes doubly for the helmet.

What further complicates matters is that veterans themselves may seem inconsistent, relishing wearing their gear (particularly boots) while hiking, camping and so on.  The crucial difference is that when one is off-duty, you can take the stuff off whenever you feel like it.  That's not the case when you're under orders.

This experience carries over into military history, even though the eras may seem very different.  Body armor has changed quite a bit since 1066 or 476, but it's still heavy, often hot and it's always easier to move around without it.  Armor is  a compromise between protection and comfort.

The thing about armor is: you only need it if you're going to get hit.  Naturally, you're going to work pretty hard to ensure that it doesn't happen, but at the same time, you can only do so much in the chaos of battle.

Thus there are lots of examples of armor that modern civilians look at and say:  "Why didn't they wear more gear?  They clearly had the materials, were these people stupid?"  Nope, they simply wore what they felt was adequate.

Modern reenactors are likewise both good and bad.  On the positive side, they can shine light onto archeological discoveries and help us understand how things were put together and fit.  At the same time, they can introduce biases because when their weekend encampment is over, they go back to the day job and their gear goes back into the closet.

Moreover, their gear is often built to standards that aren't all that realistic.  Much replica gear is built to withstand steady, repeated use over a long time.  Whether the combat involves live steel or sticks or whatnot, it has to be built strong enough to provide a modern level of protection that was unknown in history.

Now contrast that with actual military gear used in action today.  The body armor and helmets have no such expectation of durability.  If your helmet stops a shell fragment or bullet, that's great and it's now time to get a new one.  The vests work the same way - one use and then you toss it aside because it's too damaged to trust again.

Imagine how heavy your gear would have to be to take repeated gunshots over many years and still be safe!  That kind of bias would totally distort your understanding of what troops carry.  Future historians may well puzzle over how kevlar could take bullet after bullet and keep working - or why it couldn't, when clearly just stopping one bullet or fragment wouldn't be enough.

Ancient armor apparently was quite thin and had minimal padding because it was only expected to stop one or two blows.  The best-preserved stuff is sport armor (such as for jousts) which is entirely different.  That was expected to see repeated heavy use, and wasn't designed for anything else than the tournament scene.   It was basically reenactor grade stuff.

This also ties into my earlier point about wearing a helmet.  Yes, they can save your life, but they can also hamper your vision and hearing, which can be even more dangerous.  There's also the question of giving commands and letting your followers know you're still alive.  I've seen some folks ridicule Hollywood for wanting to show actors' faces rather than covering them with visors, but history is chock full of episodes where a king or general tears off his helmet or hat so his men can see his face and know he's with them.

The same thing is true with weapons.  Swords in particular were disposable items.    Even a well-made sword will get pretty mangled if you spend several hours banging on shields and helmets with it.  One reason why there are stories of 'magic' swords is likely that there were certain alloys that could withstand the punishment better, breaking or cutting through inferior grades of metal.

It's interesting to read historic accounts and poems because they sometimes spend as much time on broken weapons as they do on people getting killed.  Some of it is a rhetorical flourish, but battlefield finds bear out that there's a huge amount of breakage in combat, and this is still true.  The Petersburg museum in Virginia had a section of the battlefield that had been excavated preserved in a special exhibit and you could see broken rifles and all manner of junk where it had fallen on the ground.

We think of people having a personal sword or spear like King Arthur or Achilles, but in fact your average trooper probably needed steady replacements after each battle.  Breaking one's sword may have symbolic importance in legend, but it was a very real occurrence.

Here again we have a modern bias, not wanting to damage our premium expensive historic reproduction blade by blunting it against your expensive historic reproduction helmet (or another blade), but that was the reality of war back in the day.  Not only did you expect that sort of clash to happen, you counted on it.  A key factor in combat was the quality of ones weapons and there is a reason that certain regions were highly-respected for the quality of their metalwork. 

When sword meets sword, it's an extra bonus to know that yours isn't going to be the one getting dented.

To be clear, I'm not saying that everyone who ever wore a uniform has some sort of unique insight that is denied to a lifetime student of history.  Instead, I'm saying that having a bit of both is best - the lived experience of military life combined with the study of history can give insights that are hidden from those who only know what they've read in books and/or picked up in their Living History group.

That's certainly been my experience.

I still enjoy watching these presenters, but it's just something to keep in mind.

 


A minor update to my catalogue

Hitherto, I've been content to link my various articles over at Bleedingfool.com on an individual, named basis.

Last week I broke down and created a Geek Guns page.  This in turn led me to think:  "Gosh, if only there was a way to link all of my items there at once..."

Which I've now done on the main page.  You'll likely have seen that before you get to this, but if you've visited here before, you might have missed it.

So I'm pointing it out to you.  Enjoy!


The much-needed change of the seasons

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a friend in Texas and he lamented the sheer monotony of the weather there.

Coupled with COVID precautious, which essentially leech the fun out of just about everything, he felt as though he was stuck on a treadmill, re-living Groundhog Day, as the metaphor goes.

Being a Michigander, he asked how the weather was and I said the change of the seasons was underway, with the first harbinger of fall showing up in cooler nights.

Since then, the weather has taken a more decisive turn, dropping into the 60s during the day and touching the 40s in the evening.

This is what I consider Ideal Weather.  I love it.

Like just about everyone else, I figured the disease would be bad, but short-lived, as such things historically have been.  What I did not foresee is the political leadership deciding to make the precautions indefinite.  It's profoundly disappointing.

Yet, there are some bright spot.  My diocese reports that not a single case of COVID spread can be traced to Mass attendance.  Not one over months.  So maybe we can loosen things up, perhaps?

Also, I'm glad to see Big Ten football is coming back.  I was all-in on the college game a few years ago before burning out, but now I like the background noise and the occasional game.  Plus, the sports pages are a welcome change away from the howling madness of contemporary politics.

Above all, for me autumn is about tradition, times gone by and fond memories.  It is reflective and comforting.  See it locked up and shut down is particularly hard to take.

We are only getting a glimmer of light, but sometimes that all we need.  Like the distant star peeping through Mordor's gloom, it reminds us that evil can never fully triumph: somewhere, light will still shine unsullied.


Behind the curve on Bleeding Fool

The publication of Long Live Death left me a bit distracted, so I forgot to link to my two latest posts over at Bleeding Fool.

Those who remember my fondness for North and South will be amused to see that I've broached the topic over there - albeit in a shorter, funnier format.

Going back almost a month ago, I did a fun nostalgic romp on Zardoz.  Embrace the strangeness while you still can!

Apologies to anyone who missed out, now you can catch up!