The (partial) death of the reunion

The triumph of social media has destroyed the old way of celebrating anniversaries.  In previous generations, the arrival of a significant date would be commemorated with some sort of reunion.  Because such things happened at intervals of five or ten years, people would anticipate them, and make plans for travel, etc.

Alas, in our benighted age, people think that 'following' on various social media platforms fulfills this function.  It does not.  Partly because of Covid, there was no 30th year reunion for my high school graduating class, and the 20-year festivities had abysmal attendance.  Easier to just send messages on Facebook or something.

The problem is that social media is not real life.  People inherently seek attention, and so they manipulate the information they share about themselves, inflating accomplishments to bolster their self-esteem or highlighting challenges to gain sympathy.

Either way, social media serves as a form of performance art, and is no substitute for human contact.

Indeed, it amplifies the worst aspects of human behavior.

Happily, there are still places where people gather to meet face-to-face, and yesterday I participated in one of them.  My exact contemporaries were few, but the fact that multiple generations gathered and could still share common experiences and relate to one another in terms of life rather than politics or a need to find scapegoats was wonderful.  Indeed, attendance was unusually high, particularly among the younger crowd. 

This gives me hope that perhaps people are realizing that online relationships lack the fullness of a personal touch.  Far better to spend a few hours talking face to face than simply clicking thumbs up  or offering commentary.

Human were built to be together - to hear, to see and to touch one another.  After the lockdowns, maybe people are more sensitive to his.  We can only hople.

Another lesson from the garden: bait squash triumphant

Six years ago I contemplated how my plans to cultivate raspberries completely miscarried, and yet ultimately succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

I'm now experiencing a similar phenomenon in regards to my garden.

This year I planted three crops within the fenced enclosure: carrots, snow peas and green onions.  The green onions never stood a change, the snow peas produced a little but are now on death's door.  The carrots seem to be doing well, but I'm in no hurry to harvest them.

But there's another crop that seems to be flourishing, and that is yellow squash.  I planted this outside the fence to act as something of a buffer.  Squash plants have tiny prickers so having a line of them (I reasoned) would reinforce my defensive line.

I also knew that one of the first crops I planted was squash and it did really well, with trivial losses to animals. 

Thus the irony: plants that I had no real investment in are now the primary hope for a successful year.  They germinated late because of the drought and I'd actually given up hope on them but now they're just taking off.  Last time we had so much squash that I had to give it away.  I'd love to have the same problem this years.

The gage is thrown down on Underworld

A new author at Bleedingfool.com has thrown shade at Underworld, which is one of my favorite films. 

Naturally, I shall respond forcefully.  Strong column to follow.

This was the bit that really set me off:

Selene’s inexplicable, unearned combat prowess reveals her as a Mary Sue: a character whose flawless abilities leave so few genuine challenges as to make everyone else irrelevant.

What utter nonsense.  Selene is an interesting character precisely because of her vulnerabilities.  She's handy with a pistol, but while she does well in the initial encounter, she has to flee for her life, leaving her partner behind.  That's hardly "flawless."

Similarly, her attempt to secure Michael doesn't succeed because she thumps all the werewolves effortlessly, she barely manages to drag him into her car and even then Lucien gives her a vicious wound that causes her to lose consciousness and wreck her car.  Michael, who she treated like baggage, ends up saving her life.

Selene wins, but she takes damage and is clearly not invincible.

There is also the emotional aspect of her character.  She has grown up with a set of assumptions that she slowly realizes simply are not true.  She must therefore struggle to make sense of the lies she has been fed, and make her own way.  This includes recognizing the humanity in werewolves and even teaming up with Michael against her mentor.

A Mary Sue character, by contrast, has no real struggle other than to fully appreciate her own awesomeness. 

Naturally, I will have to link on my Geek Guns article on the film as well.

The larger point is that this fellow is striving for a hot take without apparently understanding the lingo or the genre.  Underworld is not a taught psychodrama, it is an action film set in the vampire genre, and it is very good at what it is trying to do.  The mood, the look, the music, it's all superb.

It's one thing to say "I don't like vampire films," or that the aesthetic didn't work.  But it is another to claim a certain flaw - in this case Mary Sue - where there is none.


Inflation and the Indie author

Effective June 20th, Amazon raised the prices for print versions of their self-published authors.  I'm sure many authors are also looking at raising their e-book prices simply because everything else has gone up.

Inflation poses a unique problem for people who don't have major publicity behind them.  Such folks can charge a premium for their work.  Lesser lights, on the other hand, rely on a lower cost to help entice readers.  While inflation is distributed across the board in the book market, people still have a sense of what is expensive and what is not, and there can be a disconnect when prices rise as sharply as they have done over the last couple of years.

I supposed that - had I been market-savvy and seen it coming, I could have announced a big sale before the price hike.  I may do that anyway, offering "retro" prices over a big weekend.

The fact remains that when everything gets more expensive, that includes books.

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.