Memorial Days gone by

I think Memorial Day is the only holiday that has something of a ticking clock included with it.   Independence Day also has temporal significance insofar as it there can be important anniversaries of the date, but that's mostly based large, round numbers.  The bicentennial was a big deal.  The years afterwards, 201, 202?  Not so much.

With Memorial Day, the passage of time is more sublime.  I'm old enough to remember when World War I veterans were honored guests at the parades and ceremonies.   The World War II veterans were well into middle age, but still active.  The veterans of Korea and Vietnam were somewhat ambivalent, and the latter group was struggling to define both their identity and relationship to military service as a whole.

Slowly, inexorably, the demographics changed.  The Great War generation faded away, making its last stand in nursing homes or with single representatives.  The "Greatest Generation" started to slow down, and behind them the "conflict" veterans became more organized and strongly represented.

Today, the Vietnam and Korean War veterans are the old guys, and the World War II survivors are so scarce as to render their reunions pointless.  My Gulf War/War on Terror generation is now moving into the familiar position of recent service, but this time it has a strange twist because our wars took so long.  In my case, "serving for the duration" took 20 years. 

Our losses were also comparatively light, which was probably why the wars were able to drag on as long as they did and end so ignobly.  

All of which leads to feelings not unlike those of the Vietnam generation.  I joked with one of my uncles (who was in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive) that he'd manage to lose only one war; my generation lost two of them




The curse of our age - deleted work

While being able to compose on a keyboard has brought many blessings to modern writers, it carries with it a powerful curse - unexpected deletions.

I'd just finished a post on The Princess Bride when some glitch on the site wiped it out.  It wasn't long, I could make the same points again, but I'm too frustrated to bother.  I'll likely revisit it in a day or so and maybe add some other thoughts.

This cannot happen if one is using actual paper to write.  Yes, paper can burn, get soaked or be misplaced, but it doesn't vanish off the page while you are writing it.

Hopefully it was a one-time event.  I've been generally happy here at Typepad, and several times the auto-save has in fact saved me.  I suppose I shall be more cautious going forward.

Planted at last

When I first retired from the Guard, I looked with bewilderment and joy at all the free time I was going to have.   One of the projects I helped would fill those empty hours was a garden, a right proper one with rows and things.

Well, between watching the grandkids (which is a joy) and erratic weather, I'm three full weeks behind schedule, but at last the seeds are in the ground.  What comes up is anyone's guess.

I don't think I'm cut out to be a gardener, but I do enjoy seeing the plants come up.  Since this year I'm doing short-term crops (green onions, peas, carrots), if something doesn't work, I can just prep for the late harvest or even look at fall through winter plantings.

My gardening side-quests are also continuing, but I've made a lot of progress over the last two weeks.  The garage side door had been almost entirely blocked for years.  Now it's open for business.  The process of planting allowed me to clear out all the accumulated potting soil.  As summer unfolds, I'm looking forward to further reorganization in a more deliberate manner, and also ways to refine the garden area itself.  It is entirely fenced in, and it would not take a great deal of imagination to turn that into a hoop house should the desire take me.

All of which is to say: there are lots of possibilities, and I'm looking forward to exploring them.  My first goal is accomplished, and I'm going to celebrate that just a little.



Many ratings, no reviews

Over the last couple of weeks I've notice that a bunch of my books are getting more ratings on Amazon.  Some are good, others not so much.  Indeed, I've been surprised to see the Man of Destiny series pick up a bunch of ratings, but some are the lowest they've ever gotten.

Conversely, both Long Live Death and Walls of Men seem to be improving in their reception.

Perhaps this is the result of me taking on a higher profile at Dakka as well as Bleedingfool.com.  The more people who read my stuff, the more there are who may not appreciate it.  It comes with the territory.

The curious part is the lack of reviews.  The early versions of Long Live Death got punished because of the typos and editing errors.  I think Walls of Men has been spared this because the much more exacting editing process.

I'm aware that the Man of Destiny books are not as clean as they could be.  One of my goals it to release a second edition (perhaps an all-in-one with new cover art and some extra content). 

However, I don't think people are throwing out two- or three-star ratings because of that.  And since there are no reviews, I'm not sure what they could be objecting to.

Unreliable sources

The research for writing Long Live Death was quite challenging.  I quickly learned that there was lots of information on the Spanish Civil War, but much of it was false.  It is one thing to be biased, and portray various actions in the most negative way possible, but it another thing entirely to simply state things that are not true.

For example, Hugh Thomas has a clear bias in favor of the Republic, but his information is meticulously documented and generally reliable (though I did catch a couple of errors in his very complicated narrative).

Antony Beevor, on the other hand, is a total hack.  If he told me the sun was shining I would assume it wasn't until proven otherwise.  His bigotry and deception by omission renders everything else has written suspect.

The Romans recognized this the logic of this, enshrining the phrase: falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus (false in one thing, false in everything) in the Western legal tradition. 

I'm sad to say that when working on Walls of Men, this same principle destroyed my trust in a web site I had visited and enjoyed for years: strategypage.com.

I'm not entirely sure of who posts there now, but back in the day it was product of the longstanding collaboration of Jim Dunnigan and Austin Bay, two old-school wargamers who had collaborated in the best-selling A Quick and Dirty Guide to War.

During the Global War on Terror, the site had been very useful in providing updates on Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots typically ignored by the mainstream media.  However, over time I noticed that the site was often irrationally optimistic about American operations. 

To be fair, it was possible that their sources were simply lying to them.  After all, we know that a great deal of internal communication within the US military was fabricated to justify ongoing operations and conceal the magnitude of failure from the American public.

However, when I began to dig into the inner workings of the Chinese military, the errors were too glaring to ignore.  The breaking point for me was a post which described the Peoples' Liberation Army as being "all-volunteer" since the 1980s.  This is absolutely not true.  (I can't find the specific post because the site's organization is abysmal.)

Multiple published sources (which I used in my book) confirm this, and reputable web sites also state that conscription still happens, though no one is sure exactly what percentage of the PLA is recruited using it.  Either way, it's just plain wrong, and that kind of error casts doubt over everything on the site.  I now have to wonder how much else they go wrong, and while there may be some value to determining whether it was due to bias or ignorance, the inescapable fact is that they simply cannot be trusted.




My interview at Bleedingfool.com

Over the last couple of weeks I've been talking things over with Chris Braly of Bleedingfool.com and the contents of that interview are now available on the site.

Long-time readers of my blog will find few surprises, but it was nice to see the management step out side the normal comic/geek culture box and examine how geopolitics can shape American culture.

I'm pretty sure the Venn diagram of people interested in both Chinese military history and comic books has a fairly shallow overlap, but there is a connection.

As I note in the interview, Hollywood has largely abandoned middle America and has turned instead to the vast Chinese market for money.  This has allowed them make a fortune selling vapid super-hero movies, but the drive to put "woke" themes in everything is something the Chinese have proven far more resistant to than Hollywood expected.  This leaves the big studios (particularly Disney) in a place where their biggest market and the home market both hate their products.  Hence the layoffs.   Anyhow, read the whole thing.

The sounds of spring

It's been a topsy-turvy winter here in Michigan, veering between extreme cold and unseasonable warmth.

As a result, the "quiet of winter" seems to have come to a premature end.  For those who don't live in such climates, winter is indeed a time of diminished noise.  Partly this is function of the snow on the ground, which acts as a giant muffler, muting everything but the wind.

But the other part comes from the cessation 0f animal activity, particularly birds.  Going out over the past couple of days I've heard the first soloists tuning up for what will soon become a mighty orchestra of chirping.  As spring deepens, other critters will join in, particularly insects and (locally) frogs.

For now, the sounds are few.  There is still scattered snow on the ground, the great flocks have get to gather.  However, the calls of their pioneers right clear in the growing morning light.  Spring is coming.

Edward and Mrs. Simpson: aristocratic selfishness causes political crisis

I've been doing something of a deep dive in archaic television serials.  I guess some of these could be called a "miniseries," since they aren't really a full season worth of programming, but the upshot is that I'm enjoying watching the old shows.

The latest offering is Edward and Mrs. Simpson, a drama about the romance between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson that culminated in the Abdication Crisis of 1936.

The show aired in 1978, after Edward's death but while the Duchess of Windsor (nee Wallis Warfield) was still alive.  It is very respectful to the subject matter, and while it is taken for granted that Edward is carrying on a sexual affair with Mrs. Simpson, they never so much as make out.

That is to say, there is much discussion of bed-hopping, but all of it takes place off camera.

The story is quite well-known at this point, but I enjoyed this presentation, particularly Edward Fox's turn as Edward VIII.  Fox was one of those English actors who never quite became a leading man, instead serving in a supporting role.  To be sure, he played the assassin in Day of the Jackal, but it was a very restrained role with little dialog.

I think Fox does a splendid job, and many of the set pieces are designed to mimic known photographs or newsreels.  Cynthia Harris (who I don't recall seeing before), is just as good as Wallis, and the pair establish a compelling (and likely accurate) dynamic of co-dependency that explains why Edward would cast aside the throne and throw the British Empire into crisis simply because of his desire to date older, married women.

I'm sure a more modern treatment would celebrate the victory of love over duty, but this 1978 version does the opposite, noting that at every turn, Edward tried to shirk his royal duties and always put pleasure before business.  The picture that emerges is a fascinating one. 

Traditionally, first-born children feel a heightened sense of obligation to their families, particularly since they may have to help manage the care of younger siblings.  Edward seems to have been an exception to this rule, resentful of his birth and working tirelessly to avoid the responsibilities associated with his birthright.

In the end, of course, he succeeds, abandoning the throne in favor of his brother Bertie, who reigned as King George VI.  After some vague intrigues during World War II (which resulted in Edward being the go-to monarch for alternative history regarding the UK), the Duke and Duchess of Windsor became little more than minor celebrities and part of the Continental social scene.  The question of inheritance was moot because they produced no offspring, which was no surprising given that she was already nearly beyond child-bearing years when they met.

(There were of course salacious rumors about botched abortions and such to explain her lack of children.)

The one knock against the show isn't really against it at all, but rather FreeVee, which apparently owns the rights and streams via Amazon.  FreeVee uses commercials to cover its costs, which was once standard practice (and still is in the broadcast world).  However, the commercial breaks in Edward and Mrs. Simpson appear almost at random, cutting through a scene rather than the normal practice of doing it between them. 

I think there's a fascinating parallel with Edward VIII and Henry VIII, and at some point I'll dig a little deeper into it.

My new life as a civilian

I don't generally dwell on personal details, but as anyone who has looked at my body of work knows, I have done a bit of military service.  More than 20 years, actually.

That came to a close at the end of last year.

I'm looking forward to have more free time - that whole "one weekend a month" thing got to be a real drag after a while.  It seemed that every important event was slotted against drill, which not only wrecked the weekend itself, but cast a shadow of fatigue on the following week.  The weekend after was then a game of catch-up on chores. 

It played havoc with my writing schedule.  I might be writing at a good clip and then drill (or a training deployment) would pop up and that was that.  I might lose a whole month.

Folks sometime ask me how I could write at all given the pressures of two jobs plus a family, and the answer is that it became my creative outlet.  I gave up watching broadcast television and cable years ago.  Over the last couple of weeks I've joined the kids in playing console games, but that's also a function of having Walls of Men near completion.  I like to take  break after one project before diving into the next.

My new catch phrase is "people write what they know," and I'm looking forward to incorporating more aspects of that life in my work.  Yes, I wrote Three Weeks with the Coasties while still serving, but I also pulled some punches (and had to get it approved by DoD).

I've probably said before that I don't put a particular emphasis on the change of the calendar, but for once, the dividing line is pretty stark. 

As in Olden Days, Happy Golden Days

I've taken particular care this year to reach out to as many old friends as possible.  Between the pandemic and the constant (generally electronic) distractions of modern life, it's easy to become isolated from actual people and instead be caught in a virtual world.

We have hosted more gatherings this year than ever before, and I intend to build upon that a year from now.  I think back to the pre-internet age, and holiday parties were the way people caught up with one another.  I spent Christmas Eve going from party to party as my mother caught up with old friends who were back in the old neighborhood.  I was typically bored, because I'd last seen these people when I was a toddler.  I often begged off, but of course part of why I had to come was so she could show me off.

Which was fine, really.  Lots of snacks and treats and then Midnight Mass to wrap up the experience.

After Christmas Day, there were the informal parties - ad hoc get-togethers of people in town to play games or watch movies.  I'm glad to see my kids doing this.  We hosted a considerable party the week before, and I'd like it to become a regular thing because these are what the best memories are built on.

People may stress about family gatherings, but after all that is done and the gifts bought, delivered (and possibly exchanged), the "quiet" part of the holiday is often the most satisfying.