Fully Operational Death Star

Guys, this has been a long time coming.

I finally got off the dime and purchased a dedicated laptop for my work. For years, I have shared a computer with the fam, and it’s been OK most of the time. However, over the course of the past year demand for the old workhorse increased, and I’ve been pressed to squeeze keyboard time in with others to write my books.

This had to stop.

Also, something that happened with regularity was that screenshots from retail outfits would magically appear on what I was trying to use as a workspace, and at times I would leave a file open and somehow it disappeared. Little things. But they added up, like water torture. The desktop was littered with files, and I like to keep things tidy.

Uncluttered.

Not so much, with a laptop used by at least three adults, occasionally four. I got by, but it was a PITA.

Then Black Friday happened, and there was a tremendous deal on a shiny new MacBook Air.

799 bucks, all I had to do was click a button. My spouse was cool with it.

Was it the latest, greatest M2 chip badassmobile? No. However, it seemed to be a solid workhorse with more than enough power for me.

Of course I clicked the yellow button on Amazon. Within two days, the plain brown box arrived and I ripped it open. Within an hour, I had it all set up. This included downloading Word (an industry standard), and importing my files.

Now, I’m not a guy who asks a lot out of a machine. I don’t spend hours gaming, I don’t really do video editing or anything else crazy. I just need a computer to make books. This MacBook fits the bill.

The pure luxury of a near empty desktop. A bookmarks page that doesn’t have a thousand icons. No more disappearing documents.

This has made a profound difference. I find that it’s much easier to write without the knowledge that others are waiting on screen time. Or that I can leave a doc open, and no one will victimize it. That I can organize and store files as I see fit. The list goes on.

The new MacBook has been everything that I hoped for.

It is my fully operational Death Star.

The Haunted Courtyard

I don’t closely follow the news out of the ghastly war in Ukraine.

I can’t do it. It’s pretty bad over there, a war to the knife. Killing and fighting on a World War Two scale. Refugees, atrocities, very bad stuff.

However, one can’t escape the news cycle. Not even when I open my email, the information is right there. You can’t ignore it entirely.

This article caught my eye, I had to read it. It was pretty bad. A terrible situation that illustrates what is known as “the prisoner’s dilemma,” a well-known factor in infantry combat.

It’s hard to surrender. Every grunt knows this. When you lay down your arms after battle, anything can happen to you before you are processed and taken to the rear. There are so many factors in the decision to give up. A big one is the reputation of the opposing side. Do they treat their prisoners well? Another is how many people you just killed. Are the other guys going to even consider taking prisoners after you just gunned down their friends? Is someone going to just accept your surrender when you have a smoking machine gun next to you, with a big pile of expended brass beneath it?

I look at some of the commentary in this article, and I shake my head. These people have clearly never been in a fight. They come up with all this lawyerly bullsh*t, and they’ve never spent one day on the line. Hell, they’ve never spent a day in uniform, let alone been in infantry combat.

There was a reason the insurgents took very few prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. We all knew that our chances of living were pretty slim if taken. Most likely, we’d end up on one of those horrible videos where people were tortured and then beheaded. Plus, we usually won our engagements.

I can personally attest that the US Army goes out of its way to treat its captives fairly and humanely.

I’ve seen the process first-hand. I took prisoners after a vicious little firefight on the morning of the 28th of September, 2011. This was not without personal risk. My guys had taken casualties, and emotions ran high. There I stood, in a shitty little field choked with marijuana plants, shrouded by the red smog from a smoke grenade that I tossed into some weeds. Medevac was inbound, and the fight was kind of over. The wounded were screaming and writhing. My medic was a very busy man.

My Afghans wanted to kill my prisoners. I told these dangerous men to f**k off in no uncertain terms. The prisoners were under my care, custody, and control. Things were tense, to say the least. There was still gunfire, 2nd Rifle Company was engaged in clearing the village. It was very, very bad news.

After a couple of chancy moments, it ended up working out all right. The Afghans stood down, my medic saved a couple of guys’ lives, the prisoners were loaded onto an ambulance, and our guys took a bird.

As I read the article, I couldn’t help but to think on that morning. What if one of the wounded or surrendering insurgents had went for a weapon, or had concealed one, as seems to be the case in this episode in Ukraine?

I don’t doubt that none of them would have lived. It would have happened in the blink of an eye. As soon as one of the prisoners morphed into a deadly threat, they would have all been shot.

This could have happened to me. Easily.

War is an atrocity. You are licensed to engage in that most dreadful activity, taking another’s life. In fact, you are encouraged to do so. They give you shiny medals and financial incentives to kill. They train you in such a way as to dehumanize your opponent to make pulling the trigger easier. This starts in the very beginning. The first time you step onto a firing range, the targets have a human silhouette for a reason- they found out in WW2 that the traditional circular targets don’t mentally prepare the shooter for killing people. So, they switched it up, and these days the E-type silhouette is ubiquitous.

Therefore, I think it’s crazy to compare grunts under fire in a bad situation to characters who chuck women down wells and set up torture rooms.

The former is an ugly combat incident, a haunted courtyard that will probably live in the combatant’s dreams for many years to come. The latter is a deliberate policy enacted by sadistic NKVD types who want to relive their grandpa’s dark fantasies of Soviet power.

This. This is why you don’t start a war. Because wars are disgusting. Let’s just face the fact that war means killing, the waste of lives and resources. The biggest butchers aren’t the besmirched and defiled fellows with the well-worn guns. The ones who end up drinking themselves to death. No, the real butchers wear Saville Row suits. They circulate with diplomatic immunity and have fancy yachts. They die of old age in comfy beds, like Josef f**king Stalin. They give a few orders, and millions die.

Why don’t we put those guys on trial? Why don’t they face justice?

Sometimes this happens. Nuremberg. The Hague.

But something tells me Vladimir Putin will never sit before a tribunal, although his sins are legion.

Ultimately, he is to blame. This terrible situation would have never happened if he hadn’t given the order to roll the tanks into a neighboring nation that just wanted to be left alone.

He created a situation where millions with battle rifles and killing implements were unleashed upon each other in a land that has seen more than its share of apocalyptic violence.

This haunted courtyard. The soldiers twisted in unlovely death.

This is on him.

More garbage to carry

Image courtesy Army Times- a Ranger using the new IVAS system, or the Integrated Visual Augmentation System.

Hey all. As you know, a long-standing theme of mine is to take the lessons of the modern battlefield and imagine how all the recent technological developments are going to play out going forward.

Well, I’ve never worn them, so I don’t really know, but I can speculate that the new multi-billion dollar IVAS system, as seen above, really sucks to wear and use. It looks like a rubber squid perched upon the user’s face, and I’ll bet there are real issues with them steaming up or restricting the soldier’s breathing. Plus, how effective are they during inclement conditions?

Yeah, they provide (in theory) data links, thermal and NVG capabilities and targeting info, maybe great navigation aids, but how would they hold up in combat?

Imagine this scenario- you already have about forty kilos of shit you have to carry, plus a weapon, and you have one of these rubber gadgets on your face. It’s hot and steamy, maybe some rain, and now you have to move twenty miles to your objective. These goggles would really suck. Maybe you’d only put them on at the Objective Rally Point (ORP), but still. Weren’t they supposed to be on your face the whole time? Doesn’t this kind of defeat the purpose?

I’d be a lot more impressed with these goggles if they were the size of a beefy pair of GI glasses, like the old BCG’s (Birth Control Glasses). But they are not. They are like the shitty dust goggles we had in the desert, but way worse. Heavier, with annoying cords that can get hung up on branches and stuff, and probably stupid battery packs.

Of course, I am out of the game, so I don’t know. Maybe the guys love these things for their capabilities. But me? On a patrol, I’d travel as light as possible, and these goggles don’t seem to fit the bill very well. Not to mention that the software is made by Microsoft, of all organizations. So, they are guaranteed to be buggy and not particularly user-friendly. Hi-tech gear that crashes when you need it most is a Microsoft hallmark.

As an observer, I’d take a hard pass on this junk until the Army can field something glasses-sized.

But what do I know? I’m just a dummy sitting behind a laptop and speculating. I speculate, though, that this is stupid. We are weighing down a heavily loaded infantryman with more heavy and awkward shit. Who designs this crap? How will it assist the soldier in combat?

As longtime readers know, I am a bit obsessed with the idea of an armored fighting suit (such as I describe in my first trilogy)- a powered, armored exoskeleton augmented by AI that gives the soldier a simple, easy-to-use HUD so he can concentrate on the mission. Something that will look like this:

Yes, this is from the old-school cartoon Robotech. This version of the armored fighting suit was a motorcycle that transformed into body armor, which is a really cool idea, but it’s probably unfeasible. However, the idea of powered armor is not.

Think about it. The soldier dons the powered armor, which has all the cool stuff in those stupid goggles integrated into a simple HUD in the helmet. The soldier can move quickly, he/she is heavily armed, and the soldier is protected in an NBC environment as well. This is the essence of move, shoot, and communicate on the modern battlefield. No need to worry about excessive fatigue because the suit assists you. The suit keeps you at a constant seventy degrees F, so a lot of the suck factor is removed. Your leaders can track you in real-time, and the suit’s AI assists them on the fly.

Right now, I can tell you that all those gadgets can drive you nuts, and you have to carry them with your fallible knees and back. Let me list all of the shit I had to carry in battle.

A PLB, a personnel locator beacon. An IR strobe. A DAGR, a cool little GPS thing that gave me a grid. A Harris or MBITR radio. A VS-17 panel. Seven magazines, plus spares in my ruck. My weapons. Grenades. 40mm grenades of various types. Body armor, a plate carrier on my last tour. Helmet. Medical stuff. Water (CamelBak). Food stuffed here and there. Cigarettes. A little nine-line card as a memory aid. A notebook. Keffiyeh and muffin hat. Maps. Knife. Weapons maintenance stuff. NVG’s. I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, the list goes on.

But you get the idea. You carry a lot of shit.

The powered suit could combine all of those things into one power-augmented package to give the infantryman a decisive edge.

But no. We are wasting the research money on rubber squid things that sit on our guy’s faces. Yes, that is as gross and awkward as that sounds, but imagine you have to wear one of these stupid IVAS gadgets on a long march through the desert, or a steamy jungle, with a bad situation at the end.

Also, let’s consider some recent developments in Ukraine. There is a lot of drone use, plus liberal amounts of artillery being thrown back and forth. The guys are dying on a World War Two scale. Don’t we owe our soldiers maximum protection against flying steel? Isn’t it a matter of time before someone weaponizes drone swarms to overwhelm traditional infantry positions?

What do I mean by drone swarms.

Here’s a great article by The Atlantic. Drone warfare will transform the battlefield as we know it. It’s happening right now.

Here’s a scenario with mini drones, such as seen below.

These drones are cheap, and the Chinese are masters at producing them.

My scenario follows, which I do not believe to be far-fetched.

Alright, a group of traditional infantry dudes is holding a position somewhere. They have these rubber squid things they’re supposed to be wearing, but they don’t because they suck to wear. So most of the expensive goggles are hanging out in their MOLLE larges. It’s raining and shitty. Every now and then, some happy asshole shoots them up with arty or a burst of machine gun fire. The suck factor is huge. Everyone is covered in mud, and the day before, a mortar round landed on someone’s head, so things are tense.

Right around midnight, the guy on sentry duty hears an odd buzzing. It’s the last thing he/she hears.

A cute little drone with thermals drops onto his head. It’s not a very smart drone. It can do only a couple of things well. It flies, it looks for heat, then it lands on the heat source. When it lands, a micro switch initiates a small charge of Semtex. The drone explodes with some degree of violence. So does the sentry’s head. Dozens of other drones seek dudes curled up in their sleeping bags or racked out behind trees.

Scratch one position.

The bad guys roll in and finish whoever is left.

This is going to happen.

Now give these same poor bastards the infantry fighting suit of my imagination. They are dispersed, and they are suited up. The suit masks their thermal signatures, and they are shielded from blast and shrapnel. They cannot be gassed, as the suit acts as an NBC-protected, temperature and cabin-controlled environment. They are in constant communication with command, and an AI controls their positions for optimum interlinking of fires. They are perfectly comfortable in the pouring rain and 40-degree temperatures. Their watch shifts are regulated by the AI, and set by their platoon sergeant. Their suits regulate and report their medical status. The suit makes it easy to stay sharp; everyone can see a god-like view of their sector on the map on their HUD. They control their own drones.

When that same drone swarm comes in, no one cares. Most of the little shits fly on because they can’t get a target lock. The ones that do detect something with their little dumb killer brains land on a few people and detonate harmlessly. Someone swears, her nap disturbed.

But that’s about it.

Completely different outcomes.

You can extend this to ships and aircraft. But that’s really a separate post. Let me say it no longer makes sense to field insanely expensive big-ticket expendable items. Yes, fighter jets and ships are expendable. But we no longer treat them that way. Stupid! Look at the modern battlefield in Ukraine- it’s a graveyard of armored vehicles, aircraft, and ships like the Moskva. All done with relatively cheap smart munitions.

Have we learned nothing from that war?

Guess not.

Too many people are invested in those big-ticket and soon-to-be useless items. The carrier group. The 100 million dollar manned fighter jet. The ultimate tank.

The military-industrial complex is screwing up. They are producing white elephants and rubber face-squids, when they should be drawing lessons from the battlefield and developing weapons for tomorrow’s war which can be seen in broad outlines today.

Simplicity and mobility are what is needed. Not stupid, heavy, and buggy rubber goggles that Joe will jam into his ruck, never to be seen again.

But what the hell do I know. I’m sure some blimpish general in TRADOC knows far more than me, and he’s eying a job with Raytheon when he punches out.

It’s not a matter of money. It’s how the money is spent.

Give our grunts a chance. Not stupid toys.

Resolution

Welcome to Black Friday week!

This is the absolute best time of the year for large ticket purchases, I’ve been a big fan for a long time.

Something else I like is Apple products. I gave up on PCs long ago; they are just too buggy. I’m forced to use Microsoft products for writing purposes- Word is the industry standard. But that’s the full extent of Microsoft’s reach into my house. If I have my way about it, things will stay that way.

But I digress.

A year or two ago we replaced the family MacBook with an updated MacBook Air. It has the new “Magic Keyboard” (not really new. A refinement on the old keyboard after an experiment that didn’t work) and an M1 chip. The computer has proven to be a real beast- reliable, fast, and extremely capable. It meets all expectations and then some. It’s an amazing machine. However, there is only one, and there are two primary users.

This has created a number of bottlenecks over the last few years. My wife has a lot of work she needs the computer for, and hey, I’m a writer. When we need to use the computer at the same time, as we frequently do, her work takes priority because she actually gets paid for what she does and she always has external deadlines. Mine are internal.

This has been a hassle.

This morning I came across a wonderful story on CNN. Actually, it amounts to an advertisement, but it was a welcome one. Apple is having some significant sales right now, and I clicked on one and took advantage of it.

USD 799 for a clone of the family workhorse. Guys, I couldn’t refuse this deal. Seriously. There is nothing better than an Apple laptop, and to score a very capable machine for much less than a thousand was an offer I couldn’t pass up.

So I didn’t. I clicked on the yellow button, and now that bad boy, my very own dedicated writing laptop, is headed my way.

No more scheduling conflicts. No clutter on my desktop. No kids running off with the machine because they need to print something or worse yet, screenshotting endless websites with good deals on clothes, shoes, or something. No million tabs open. No one closing out my files that I left open for a reason. The list goes on.

Of course, I’ll have to configure my new machine, which is a hassle, but when it’s done it will be mine all mine.

This is amazing in so many regards. I haven’t had my own computer since I left the service (a junky little HP mini laptop that I used to carry in my rucksack. But hey, it worked). So, you can imagine that I’m looking forward to this.

Finally.

If you are looking to upgrade an old machine, now is the time to do it. I can highly recommend the model that’s on sale on the link- it is very capable, and right now, affordable.

Recommend.

New book

Hey, everybody.

My new alternate history book is out there, ready for the viewing public.

Here’s the back-cover blurb.

“In this World War One alternate history novel by Jason Lambright, Private Bill Strohmeier, a light machine gunner in the 7th King’s Ohio Rifles Battalion, fights to save himself and his friends in the muck and blood of the deadly trenches of France and Belgium. 

Every day could be his last. Each bullet could have his name on it. As the heavens roar and the ground heaves with high explosives, can Bill and others in the 7th Ohio Rifles live and hold out against the Kaiser’s best? 

Does Bill survive this walk in hell?”

If this sort of thing interests you, by all means head on over to Amazon and give it a look.

Here’s the links:

Amazon Australia

Amazon UK

Amazon US

For anyone else, it’s probably on your host nation Beast website as well.

This is pretty cool. Two releases in 2022, after five years of producing not much. Well, I did produce stuff, I simply lacked the means to get it out there. But now I’ve got the secret sauce.

I hope to get two more out there next year and start on another project. Time will tell, but it looks pretty good right now.

Thanks to everyone for dropping by!

Living with the Ford Maverick

Morning, readers.

I thought to do a final segment on the 2022 Ford Maverick, the Swiss Army knife of American-style pickup trucks.

First, let me refresh your memories of exactly what specifications this truck has.

It is a base XL Maverick, meaning the lowest available trim level. Steel wheels, plain black fabric interior. No frills, but IMO still plenty of creature comforts. There is a WiFi hotspot, which gets used quite a bit, a standard eight-inch info-backup screen, seating for five (although better at four), an eight-speed automatic transmission, and Ford’s EcoBoost 2.1L engine. Also, I chose the optional “4k Tow Package” which bumped up my tow rating and gave me an HD transmission and cooling system. Nice to have. Another factory option I chose was the bed extender, a must-have accessory. In addition, I added the bed cubbies, which are great for additional storage, and the tech wizards at the local garage added factory cruise control as well. Standard XL 22 Mavericks don’t have cruise, but it’s easily modded using a new switch and code. I also opted for the factory spray-in bed liner, which turned out to be a very good decision. No scratches yet, pretty tough stuff.

Almost ten months into my ownership and operation of this vehicle, I have yet to find a significant flaw.

Guys, the Maverick has done absolutely everything I have asked of it. Everything. And I’ve used it just like my old half-ton Chevy, with very similar results (except for WAY better fuel economy and parking).

Half ton, you may say, with such a little, unassuming truck?

Yes. This falls within its design parameters. The Maverick can handle well over half of a ton (1000 pounds, or approx 500kg) of cargo. Observe.

This little guy was designed by the factory to hold 1422 pounds, or 645 Kg without exceeding its load restrictions. With two adults and their random crap on board, you have an effective capacity of about 1000 pounds/500 Kg.

I have put this to the test a number of times. Sometimes I’ve pushed it a bit, but I don’t think I’ve ever overdone it. Observe.

This is the day that I needed to haul the necessary supplies to build my woodshed. I had doubts as to whether the Maverick could handle twelve footers (3.65M), but it did. In fact, it hauled the load for about twenty miles along a local highway and rural roads. This was possible because with the tailgate down you have six feet and about seven inches of flat, supported storage. It’s just enough to be able to safely haul twelve-foot lumber. However, I do recommend that you place some shorter weight over the long boards like I did with my roofing materials and ratchet strap the cargo in very carefully. See above.

That’s a lot of weight aft of the rear axle. Not something I’d do every day, but it worked in a pinch. In terms of driving, you could definitely feel it. The front end didn’t hunt, and it wasn’t squirrely, but I knew the weight was there. I kind of pushed it, but it turned out alright with careful driving.

Yeah, I went through a McDonald’s drive-through, too. Maybe not a good idea, but I managed. I really needed that apple fritter.

I’ve also hauled firewood in this monster. I’ve found that the best technique is to NOT use the bed extender (too much weight aft of the axle) but to leave the tailgate up and heap the wood. It drives better for the same amount of weight (about 1000 pounds of logs).

Geez, what have I hauled? So much. A bed full of corn stalks. Mulch. I moved my daughter’s apartment junk. Cat supplies. Feed. Jugs of diesel. Recycling stuff. The list goes on. My lifestyle requires a truck, and the Maverick fits the bill.

Speaking of which, I’d like to devote a whole paragraph to hauling square bales of hay.

The Maverick with bed extender (or just the tailgate down) can definitely fit twenty-two bales of hay without a problem. This matches my old full-sized Chevy! I knew that the Mav could do it in theory, but when I did it in practice it was astonishing, frankly. Six bales per layer, four layers high (for safety I only put four bales on the top layer). I never would have thought when I bought the little truck that it would handle so much hay, but it does. If you do the math (and I did before I loaded it), I never came close to the truck’s weight capacity. 22 bales equals about 880 pounds plus me for a little over 1000 pounds. Too easy, and the Maverick proved it that day. See the first picture.

With all that work, though, wouldn’t the fuel economy suffer?

LOL not so much. The EcoBoost Maverick’s economy is astonishing. Over thousands of miles of rural/city/highway, I averaged a true 33.2 MPG. Highway miles? See below.

34.4 MPG after the Ford garage guys reset my mileage after an oil change (I am a big believer in regularly scheduled maintenance). Immediately thereafter, I went on an eight-hour driving beatdown for my daughter’s cat. Long story. But it was all highway miles, so the mileage shown above is a true reflection of what the Mav gets tooling around highways in Ohio on 87 gas at 70 mph/113 kph.

Pretty damn impressive.

My friend with the hybrid version reports average mileage in the forties. For a truck, this is truly amazing. Many sedans never approach this level of efficiency, let alone a truck, which for good reasons are well-known gas-guzzlers. Not the Mav, it just snores along.

Speaking of which. I don’t think I’ve ever been past quarter pedal in this truck. There is just no need. It has plenty of power as-is, even in these hills carrying close to its rated weight capacity. There simply hasn’t been the need to floor it.

This is a great truck by every single measure. Comfort. Economy. Utility. Power. Adaptability. Handling. Reliability. It’s all there, for far less than 30K USD.

A note on reliability. My truck has had zero issues. None. However, my friend with the hybrid version has had a couple of glitches. Once the vehicle died for no apparent reason (it restarted when he cycled the key), and another time the radio wouldn’t turn off (he did manage to shut it off with some effort). It was pretty minor stuff that didn’t repeat, and maybe a hybrid thing, but I thought to mention it here. Modern cars are half computer, and the Maverick is no exception. This goes doubly so for the hybrid version.

I have 20,000 miles on the clock and I can still highly recommend this truck for the everyday Joe or Jane. This is the truck to get for those who are eco or budget conscious.

Why spend 40K plus on a truck that does less? I can’t see it.

Logs

Hey, all.

You may have been wondering what happened to me.

Well, I’m around and I’ve been kind of busy. But now I figured I’d let you know what’s been going on.

One big piece has been my writing. I finally finished the edit of the manuscript for my upcoming alternate history novel, based on the First World War. It was a three-week slam fest to get it done, but now it is done at last and I’ve shot it out to get transcribed into ebook format. I’d like to have it published on Amazon this month; this will be my second published novel this year.

Also, I’ve been preparing for the Northern Hemisphere hell winter. I finally did something that I’ve been putting off for twenty years.

I built a wood shed. See above.

This is great for a couple of different reasons.

First, it made use of some high stumps that I never cut down. I made them the chief supports for the shed. Second, it protects my firewood from attack by the elements. I can’t recall how many times I had to strike the woodpile with a sledgehammer to break apart frozen logs, but it was a lot. No more hassle with tarps, etc. Third, it gives me additional room to store some odds and ends. Finally, and maybe most important, it gives my dog additional space for protection from the elements. She already has a very large run (40 feet by 100), and the woodshed sits in the middle of it.

Personally, I think it’s great. It did, however, cost me an inordinate amount of time to build and a few dollars, including the purchase price of good, dry, and seasoned hardwood. There’s more than enough space for a winter’s worth of wood (I don’t actually burn much. Most of the time my heat pump does the job.) and additional shelter for my dog.

Finally, I feel ready for the winter, and I have a sense of accomplishment with my writing.

Things are looking up.

A decade for delivery

It takes way too long to build a ship.

Why do I say this.

The USS Robert E. Peary, a Liberty ship, was built in four days, fifteen hours, and twenty-nine minutes. This was the record set for the construction of a Liberty class vessel in World War Two. Yes, it was an outlier. However, the average time for construction was about thirty days. This is a blistering rate of construction.

In contrast, the construction of the USS Gerald R. Ford, the USN’s newest carrier, spanned from 2005-2022 from start to fully operational status. This seems to be an apple-to-orange comparison. Fine. The USS Yorktown, a carrier that was commissioned in 1943, served for over thirty years. It took sixteen months to build.

Sixteen months versus well over a decade.

This lays bare a chief weakness of the Western democracies. We have forgotten how to produce weapons and ordnance to scale for a peer-on-peer conflict.

One missile, albeit an expensive and sophisticated one, will send the thirteen billion dollar Gerald R. Ford to the bottom of the sea.

Our enemies know this. They also know that we no longer possess the basic manufacturing capabilities that we had in the Second World War, because we sent that overseas a long time ago, in many cases directly to unfriendly countries. We labored under the delusion that our peaceful and interconnected world would always exist, that our extended supply chains didn’t matter, and that we could bask in the sun of readily available cheap stuff made by people far away in places we couldn’t pronounce.

Well, a lot of things these days are showing us what a foolish presumption that was.

First, there was COVID, which shut the world down for a while, killed millions, and continues to cast its shadow across our supply chains. This is one reason that it’s hard to buy a car at a decent price these days. Second, someone decided that it would be a great idea to restore the Soviet Union by rolling tanks into Ukraine. This set off alarm bells throughout Europe, which in terms of defense had fallen asleep at the switch around 1992 or so. Finally, it became clear to all that the world’s factory, China, was not going to transition as imagined to a benign semi-democratic and friendly economic superpower.

No, Chairman Xi put a stop to that. Witness his latest move, publicly humiliating and purging a potential rival at this latest conclave of the Chinese Communist Party. No, make no mistake Xi is in charge, and under his watch, the Party has regained its primacy in China. Leninist principles will be adhered to.

Vladimir Lenin, remember him? The hoary old ghost we all thought had finally been laid to rest? Nope. Not so much. The hammer and sickle rule billions.

The purging of Hu was worthy of Stalin. All that was lacking was a show trial. But who knows, maybe we’ll get to see that, too.

I say all of this to remind my readers that there is no replacement for hard power. Soft power is fine, but if you can’t back it up with hard, you are pissing in the wind when confronted by men such as Putin and Xi. “How many divisions has the Pope,” asked Stalin, in a succinct summation of the limits of soft power.

This is why I’m distressed at the current state of our logistics, let alone our politics.

A brief aside about politics. Isolationism was thoroughly discredited for generations for a reason. We learned the hard way that wars elsewhere have a dangerous tendency to reach our shores and that alliances are crucial to maintaining global peace. It’s not for nothing that certain alternate histories portray a Nazi victory in World War Two. It is not hyperbole that if the US would have stayed out of World War Two, at least in the beginning, the German war machine would have eventually dropped a nuke on Washington. Does anyone doubt that Hitler would have shown any restraint in that regard? This drives me crazy. It took all of the combined Allied might to subdue fascism in that war, and to contain Communism thereafter, and how quickly we forget. Eighty years of relative peace, paid for by the blood of our grandparents, largely forgotten. But I digress.

What I really want to talk about is logistics.

The ten-year carrier. A company that can only make a few thousand Javelins per year. The limited capacity of the Lake City plant to make artillery rounds. The chip shortage, which affects each and every “smart” munition in our arsenal. And by the way, most of our chips are made in Taiwan. Do you think that the benevolent Chairman Xi doesn’t know that? Our inadequate shipbuilding capacity. The list goes on.

Some politicians speak of how we need to stop supplying Ukraine with munitions because we are drawing down the US Army’s stocks. This is an enormous fallacy for a number of reasons.

First, Ukraine is fighting to hold back the Russian army from an unprovoked invasion. They need help. But this isn’t charity on our part. Does anyone doubt at this point that Putin would have used an occupied Ukraine to threaten further expansion into Europe? The man has shown his cards. Soviet-style terror amongst the general population. Re-introduction of the internal passport system and the levée en masse. Using energy as blackmail. Blockading food deliveries to the third world. Sabotage on Europe’s vulnerable infrastructure. The list goes on. Ukraine’s problem is our problem collectively. Didn’t we learn a damn thing from the 1920s and thirties?

Second, the Ukrainian war has done us a favor by clearly illustrating that our munitions procurement system is broken and sclerotic. OK, fine, the Ukrainians are drawing down our stocks and the US Army might run out of Javelins. Doesn’t this tell anyone that it would not be different if we were fighting a war? Wouldn’t we be subject to the same limitations? This gives us a chance to fix the system before we fire a round- the Ukrainians are doing us a favor and spotlighting this issue before it bites us in the ass.

Finally, the Ukrainian war has shown us how vulnerable our major weapons systems are to attack by sophisticated and relatively cheap munitions. Look at how the Ukrainians took down a capital ship, the Moskva. Look at all the blown tanks and fighting vehicles scattered across that blood-soaked land. Look at the many, many strikes to critical infrastructure. Look at the blown pipelines into Europe. This is a preview of what a major war looks like in the modern age. If our leaders can’t look at the example of Ukraine and draw appropriate defensive conclusions, then we are governed by fools on the left and the right.

But what do I know, really. I’m just a pensioned-off company-grade officer.

My only hope is that someone in a position of influence is thinking along these same lines and that we need to take a very hard look at the underpinnings of the arsenal of democracy, which we have allowed to atrophy. Actually, “atrophy” is far too kind.

In an act of criminal negligence, we have sold the old arsenal to our enemies. We have sub-contracted to those who wish to destroy us and our way of life.

Josef Stalin was, in the end, correct.

When it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope.”

Burning bridges

Image courtesy Vera Katkova.

The Ukrainian war is starting to really hurt the Russian government. This is a self-inflicted wound, there was no reason whatsoever for Vladimir Putin to roll the panzers on his neighbor. But he did, and here we are, in the midst of a slow-rolling replay of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Actually, I would go so far as to say this one is worse. Why. Allow me to explain.

Khruschev was a rational actor with real experience of war at its worst. Kennedy was also a man with combat experience. Both were participants in World War Two, and both men knew on a visceral level how everything we had built could be vaporized with a single miscalculation.

Putin has delusions of grandeur and Biden is president because it was his turn. This is not the leadership team I would have wanted at the helm of this crisis.

However, you don’t go to war with the army and leadership you want, you go with what you have.

So, now we have a threatened and possibly unstable KGB agent with thousands of nuclear weapons at his disposal, leading Russia. The man leading the United States rose to the top because everyone else disqualified themselves. He was the last man standing.

On these two men rests the fate of our world. Literally. Not exactly the stuff of pleasant dreams.

This is why I have been fairly quiet as of late. But now I think it’s time to write about this.

Vladimir Putin has burned all the bridges upon which his country depends to further his dreams of fire and glory. Economically Russia is totally screwed, their chief exports were hydrocarbons and weapons.

Europe was the primary recipient of Russian oil and gas. Any idiot can now see why dependence on Russia for energy was a bad idea. The Europeans are praying for a soft winter, and I don’t blame them. The acceleration of green resources will take the time they don’t have, and people are going to get cold without cheap Russian gas. The mysterious sabotage of the Nordstream pipeline hasn’t helped, and OPEC isn’t riding to the rescue. Just the opposite is true.

In the short term, the Europeans are going to pay through the nose for energy this winter. In the long term, the OPEC lands are shooting themselves in the foot. No one likes blackmail or watching their mother-in-law freeze in her flat. People remember.

In terms of weapons exports, what country will want to buy Russian arms when those have been comprehensively proven to be vastly inferior to western systems? Russian weapons are not only inferior, but they are also a tremendous waste of money. Who wants to buy tanks that are so readily converted into scrap metal littering the countryside? Who wants artillery that is only a slight improvement upon systems from WW2? Who wants planes that don’t dare to fly over hostile territory because they’ll be shot down readily and immediately?

Putin. He created this terrible situation, and in the short term he might do something desperate.

In the long term, he has thoroughly poisoned the water of his country.

Of course, any bad situation can always get worse.

One has to remember that life is a series of choices. Zeroes and ones. Putin made the choice to invade Ukraine. The Ukrainians made the choice to resist. As a result of these choices, our world is being pushed to the brink of a terrible conflict, one in which a possible use of nuclear weapons can be realistically foreseen.

What, was our lazy and happy world simply not good enough? A disappeared nirvana where the news cycle was driven by inflated outrage and not-stories involving the Kardashians?

No. Instead, we get disease, famine, and death, all rolled up into a lovely hate cigar that we are forced to light up and inhale. What is with these historical monsters who dream of imagined utopias based upon fire and glory? How do we keep getting saddled with these losers? A failed seminarian. A disgruntled corporal. And now, a pissed off secret policeman.

Fantastic.

And here in the US, I don’t see a Lincoln or FDR anywhere in sight.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, so it is said.

Well, right now I’m not seeing it. At least not over here. The Ukrainians totally lucked out with Zelensky, who obviously inherited something from his grandpa, a Soviet infantry officer. The Finns have a good one, too, with Sanna Marin.

Ahh. This is why it’s taken me so long to write this. I’m having a lot of trouble seeing a good way out of this situation.

More power to the Ukrainians, who are fighting for their homes. Paradoxically, their success with weapons stamped “Made in the USA” makes the conflict more dangerous and likely to metastasize.

I guess the important thing to realize is where this all started. It wasn’t with NATO, which until very recently was rather content to sit and slumber, to atrophy. It wasn’t “the West,” which was happy to send billions of Euros and dollars to Russia in exchange for methane, raising the living standards for all in that perpetually tormented land. No, this all started in the fevered imaginings of a man who began his career in the torture cellars of East Germany.

This crisis began with him, a man nurtured on the most poisoned fruit possible, the institutional memory of the NKVD/KGB. It may not end with him, for he may be replaced by someone crazier.

Zeroes and ones. Choices. It all comes down to that.

What will Putin choose now that he has burned his bridges? Will he unleash nuclear fire?

If he does, this will be a first. In what sense, you may ask. Didn’t the Americans destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945?

Yes, we did. We destroyed those cities to end a terrible war.

If Putin uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine, he will start one.

There’s a difference.

A fun project

Hey, everyone.

Something a little different today. I know a young lady named Arika, and it seems her class has a fun project.

They are trying to get postcards from all over the world. Could I ask you to consider helping a 5th Grade class out?

It doesn’t take much. Simply address the postcard from your area to “Arika Polen’s Class,” then pen a sentence or two about where you live. Stick a stamp on it, and then send it to the following address:

Miss Falls 5th Grade Class,

1004 Third Street

Brilliant, Ohio, 43913

USA

That’s all! I’m curious what cards come in- I know from my stats page that a lot of different countries are represented in my viewership.

Chip in. It’ll be fun!