Pity the Bundeswehr

hitler's zippo

Ok, Angela Merkel doesn’t like Donald Trump. I get it. He is also enormously unpopular in Germany as a whole.

However, he does have a valid point in that Germany isn’t close to meeting it’s 2% of GDP NATO mandated minimum on defense expenditures. Yeah, his method of bringing this across to our allies really lacks in polish or tact, but he’s still right.

Some say that Europe should go its own way in terms of defense, and not to rely upon Uncle Sam in future conflicts.

Well, if Europe is so inclined, then they can do so. The EU is a big place with a large population and economy. They should be able to afford and staff a world-class military on their own, using European weapons. It’s feasible.

But it isn’t going to happen.

Sooo… Angela Merkel (and probably Donald Trump, too, just to be fair) would like for Germany to be less dependent on the US. OK, you would think that they would raise their defense expenditures above the currently paltry level of 1.2% GDP. This would allow them to raise the forces necessary for their own defense, and the Yanks could go home. Fine.

But no.

According to the Wall Street Journal, she is about to propose lowering projected defense expenditures. I’ve linked to the article, but it’s behind a paywall so unless you have a subscription, you can’t read it. But if you’d like, subscribe. The WSJ is a great publication, if expensive.

I’ll tell you the condensed version. The German government originally proposed to hike their defense percentage to 1.5% GDP. Well, that’s been scrapped, and they are going to drop back to 1.25%. OK, it’s technically an increase of .05%. Whoopee. Tell that to the grunts who are still using WW2 era MG-42 machine guns (the MG-3), lack funds to train, and have some 328 usable tanks in their entire army.

This is a strategy either guaranteed to prolong dependency on the US for defense, or, failing that, to guarantee a defense force atrophied and starved to the point of uselessness.

Who is helped by this enigmatic decision of Ms. Merkel’s government? Not NATO, not the US, and ultimately not the German people.

The surest way to get into a fight is by being helpless. Maybe not tomorrow, but surely sometime. Yeah, Europe’s a nice neighborhood at the moment, but these things have a way of changing.

The Russians have ordered some 2300 T-14 tanks by 2025. The T-14 is NOT a piece of junk, the old NATO rule of thumb of five smoldering Warsaw Pact wrecks for every Abrams no longer holds. NATO would be very hard pressed to keep the Russian Army from driving straight to the Atlantic if things go south. Military planners should never use best-case scenarios, there is a reason that worst-case is used for contingency planning.

1.25% GDP? That’s not even best-case. That’s rose tinted sunglasses stuff.

Bad things happen to nice people all the time. And from all reports, Ms. Merkel is a nice person.

Let’s hope for her, and Germany, that she’s lucky as well.

College scam

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Alright, so some big news floating around here in the ‘States this week is a scam by some people to get their undeserving kids into big-name schools. Seriously, is anyone surprised by this type of thing? Since when have kids of the very wealthy not had a leg up on attending these “elite” schools? This is news exactly why?

Also, why is a big-name school worth the bother? So at the end of a very expensive process you have a fancy sheepskin hanging up on the wall of your office somewhere?

Come on people, get real. The world doesn’t end just because you don’t get into Hah-vahd or Yale. Your precious little buttercup might not have the mental horsepower to do MIT; and you know what? That’s OK. Not all of us are equipped to be astrophysicists, or to research the mating habits of bats.

A lot of people act as if college is the end-state of life. Guess what, it’s not. Having done my four-to-five year slog through the university myself, I wasn’t impressed. The only tangible benefit I got from my degree was an Army commission, and I guarantee you that the kids of the twinkle-toes mentioned in this week’s scandal will never go that route.

You see, most of us ignorant, unwashed proles actually have to take the entrance tests, get college loans or the GI Bill, and go through the stupid convoluted process in order to attend college. We all know the deck is stacked, though. There exists a golden door through which the kids of the few can skate. Everyone knows it; once again, how is this news?

Well, a lesson best learned young is that life isn’t fair.

Another lesson is that you appreciate stuff that you actually have to work for.

So I hope those brats who cheated their way in are happy. I wonder if they look at their subsidized (insert Ivy-league name here) degree on the wall with any degree of pride, knowing they gamed the system to get it.

The only real way to get any satisfaction in life is bare-knuckled work and determination. If you don’t teach your kids that, then you have done them a disservice. Sooner or later these kids with their fake degrees will run into situations where their money means nothing, or integrity actually counts. When the rubber meets the road, they’ll be out of luck, and Mummy-dearest can’t help them. Why? Because these parents have ultimately failed their kids.

Yeah, they got into the stupid, overrated college of their choice.

So what?

What have they learned by their parent’s actions? That people are weak? That systems can be corrupted? That thick wads of hundreds solve problems?

Hell, a life spent in housing projects will teach the same lessons at much lower cost.

And I’ll bet the kids from the projects or the backwoods have a much wider streak of adversity-tolerance than the powder-puffs whose path was greased from childhood. Actually, I know this to be the case; I saw it too often in my former line of work.

Do your kids a favor. Make them work. Allow them to fail. They’ll bitch now, but thank you later.

Parenting is leadership.

Remember that.

 

 

 

Characters running wild

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No, this hasn’t magically transformed into a gun blog. The rifle above is the Lee-Enfield SMLE, the tool used by soldiers of the British Empire in WW1 and 2. It features prominently in this alternate history I’m messing with. That’s what I’m talking about today, this writing process.

So John Birmingham recently discussed on his really cool Patreon page the tendency for characters to grow a mind of their own while you write, for them to have stubborn lives of their own while you are hammering out a manuscript.

Truer, and more timely, words were never spoken. This alt history I’m writing is a case in point. I keep thinking that something’s wrong, and I guess I need to let the control-freak side of me slip a little and realize that this is natural, a price of doing business.

This is my fourth independent novel, so to a certain extent I’ve been down this road before. But each work is its own deal. My first book was a study in “hold onto my beer and watch this.” I didn’t write an outline, didn’t do any character studies, had no plan. Frankly I’m surprised it turned out as well as it did. It was a good learning experience, in any case. By book two, I realized I needed a plan. So I developed one. The book was better, but not quite there. Finally, with the last book, Immolation, I thought I had it down to a science.

Kinda. I made a detailed outline, more or less stuck to the plan, and executed. Yeah, there were a couple of chapters that took me by surprise, but overall the characters did what I had envisioned. I plotted their fate from A to B, and that’s more or less what happened.

In the period between my last book and this one, I’ve worked on a couple of collaborations and gained more experience and expert advice; this has helped one hell of a lot.

So, I started in on this alt history. I figured this would be a done deal. Did the right thing and wrote a 4000 word outline, came up with a plan for my main characters and started to write.

Wow, was I in for a surprise. I’m 25k into this novel (with a planned 100k length), and I’ve got characters running all over the place. My protagonist has taken on a personality and a life of his own, his sidekick too. Their rifle squad has turned into a crew of oddballs and misfits (kind of like a real squad). Their fates, which were sealed, have become debatable, and oh yes, my original plan for a B-story has been grenaded by adding a female character who I do not want to become a disposable (yawn) love interest.

My characters are running around like four year olds at a daycare birthday party. Every time I sit down at the keyboard, I know I’m in for a surprise. I’ve gotten to a point where the only fates that I know for sure are my protagonist and his buddy. Everybody else lives or dies apparently at whim.

Kind of like an actual war, really.

So maybe that’s the game. If I don’t know when the bullet will hit, neither will my readers. Maybe subconsciously I think that that’s the way it should be when writing about war- death, wounds, and trauma happen at random times to pretty nice people.

But as an author, I should have more control over this process. I dunno, maybe I’m wrong. If it’s stupid and it works, I guess it ain’t stupid.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not the struggle I had this winter with “Demons,” my Stalingrad of projects. In fact, this is the opposite, I’m enjoying this process a lot. I’m just mildly shocked by how unruly my characters are acting. The important part is that the end result is enjoyable and readable. I guess.

We’ll see how that works out.

And we’ll see how these characters struggle.

Having lots of fun, seriously.

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You know you’re into a good groove when you sit down to write at 0530, and by 0900 or so you’ve got 3500 words. This makes for a good way to start your day. It’s been like this for me since I started this unnamed project- without forcing anything the words simply seem to drop onto the page of the alternate history project I’m tinkering with.

It’s a lot of fun, and it’s killed the funk I was in for a while there. You guys know about it- when I wanted to do some form of violence to my Mac.

Between this alt history and the collaborations that are out there, 2019 should be pretty darn good. I don’t think the unnamed alt history will be published this year, but I will certainly have a manuscript ready by September, my deadline. Of course, a lot depends on how busy I get, so we’ll see.

In any case, I have made a serious start on this little book. Can’t say the name, because it will give away part of the game. But if you want to hazard a guess… shoot me an email through the contact link above, and I’ll say “hot” or “cold.”

Here’s another small, non-spoilerific snippet.

In the next hastily dug hole was Lance Corporal Tom Bailey. He was dreaming of home, again. His mother’s apple pies. His girl, Lucy. Her caresses. Everything that he missed. As usual, he cursed himself for a fool that he had volunteered for this shit. If he would have waited to finish University, maybe this stupid war would have been over and he wouldn’t have this responsibility, this madness.

His little bit of University time had earned him the stupid stripe on his sleeve. But what good Plato and plane geometry did him in the trenches, he didn’t know. At first he had been dazzled by military service, and he had let that puny stripe go to his head. Men like that old salt Joe had noticed, and they hung his hated nickname around his neck. Medals. He had grown used to it, but it still stung a little. These days he could give two shits about some piece of ribbon and silver. Too often he had seen men die, good fellows who didn’t deserve what they got.

As he looked over the flaxen field, he knew more men would die tonight. Tom was resigned to the bullet that would take his life, a bullet if he was lucky. Maybe a choking mouthful of mustard or chlorine. A whizzing patch of steel. A shovel. He had seen it all.

He would take deep breaths, and let them out slowly. He checked his pistol, a captured Luger, again and again. Tom felt the handle of the trench knife that stuck from his belt, he made sure it would draw easily. His little trench shovel was stuck in his belt as well, along with Mills bombs. He looked back across the field, he felt an electric pulse when he saw the shadowed houses.

Death was there, waiting. He knew it. And he knew there was nothing he could do to stop the dying, the screaming. The assault would go in and Medals was ready. What good was his mastery of Latin now, he wondered.

The lessons of plain steel were the only ones that mattered.

In other news, Go SpaceX! Check out the article about the successful docking of the Crew Dragon with the ISS, a pretty awesome feat for a private company.

 

 

 

Spearhead- a review

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I recently did some writing in the shoes of a tanker, and I wanted to square that writing with a first-person account of a real tanker in WW2. I did my best to source and interview an armored crewman for my writing, but I didn’t have a lot of luck.

So I was pretty happy to find the book “Spearhead,” although it came along a few months too late for the writing.

Finished the book up just now, and I’m jotting down my impressions while its memory is still fresh.

First, I was pretty pleased that my research in regard to the life of an armored crewman was pretty decent. Spearhead really didn’t have any big surprises for me, that was good. Plus, I have a fair bit of combat experience running guns in an armored vehicle, just not a tank. That helped.

But I digress. Let’s talk about the book, and why you should buy it, because you should. Especially if you’re interested in an accessible, very realistic and cross-verified account of armored warfare, or warfare in general.

I’m not interested in memoirs by generals. Don’t care much for people with agendas, either. If I read about war, I want to hear from the grunts who did the thing, not some shithead in the rear.

Well, Spearhead was told from the perspectives of the men who fought. Sometimes they lived, sometimes they died. It was very well written and meticulously researched. As a real bonus, this book features the perspective of an M26 Pershing crew, a very rare viewpoint as the Pershing was only committed to battle in limited numbers in the last months of the war.

This book gets down into the weeds of life on the front lines during the push into Germany in 1945. A false impression that some people have is that there wasn’t much fighting after the Ardennes Offensive, this is simply untrue. There was plenty, Spearhead makes this very clear.

The war shuddered to a halt, dragging countless lives down to ruin in its wake. The book discusses these people and brings them into heartbreaking focus, such as a German girl shot up by an intersection. It’s enough to make you want to weep at the waste.

This was another strong point of the book. What actually interests me far more than the combat is the aftermath- what happened to all of these people after the war? Spearhead does an excellent job of telling this story in poignant fashion.

The 3rd Armored Division, known as “Spearhead” after which the book is named, was not a glamorous outfit. But guess what- 95% of the units that bore the brunt of the fighting weren’t, either. This is what makes this such an important account- the experiences of the average fighting man are often glossed over, and we are watching the closing of a window in terms of being able to capture these stories before the last old soldier is laid to rest.

So for that reason, “Spearhead” is an important book, and a must-read not only for civilians with an interest in military history, but for staff colleges and required reading in military schools. Well, in my opinion, at least.

But knowing the Army, they’ll probably still have people reading about Douglas Fucking McArthur.

They should read “Spearhead,” instead.

Dixie the dog

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It’s been a busy February. Lots of moving pieces with me right now, there are several writing projects ongoing.

The latest, a side-job, is the fault of Dixie the dog.

How.

OK, I get writing ideas at the strangest of times. This latest episode happened during a trip to the vet, it seemed that Dixie the crazy Australian cattle dog needed a rabies shot. So I gathered her up, got in the car and went. Along the way was a deserted highway, the perfect place for my head to go into neutral.

A hypothetical popped into my skull, I worried at it like gristle in the teeth. By the time I got home, had a formed idea. Sat down and started typing.

Within 48 hours there was a complete outline and “beat sheet,” and I started to write.

I won’t divulge the working name of the book or its premise.

All I’ll say is that it’s an alternate history, and here’s a small taste of the opener.

Bill held out a Mills bomb. “Get down, sir.” The Lieutenant wasted no time ducking behind some sand bags. Bill primed the grenade and threw it underhand into the trench and squatted. As soon as it went off, he rolled into the trench and squeezed off a burst to the right.

He should have aimed left, instead. A German came hurtling out of the smoke, bayonet first. There was no time to swing the BAR, Bill did the only thing he could. With his left hand he drew the tomahawk from his belt and cast it in a flat whirl, hard.

The two men locked gazes for an instant. The German rifleman’s eyes lost focus, he staggered then slumped, his rifle hit the ground before he did. As Bill was pulling his tomahawk from the man’s throat, the Lieutenant landed in the trench. He looked at the bloody tomahawk, the dead German, and Bill. The officer nodded, then pointed along the trench. Bill led off with the BAR, every few steps he would fire a burst while the Lieutenant watched his back.

Once he almost shot a Welshman. With much unintelligible cursing, the man joined their clearing party.

After some nameless length of time, the acrid smoke cleared. There was no-one left but the dead. Bill spotted movement; he fired and missed. A shit-scared German threw up his hands, he couldn’t have been a day over eighteen. He said something in a high-pitched voice; he dropped to his knees. Both the Lieutenant and Bill prepared to fire. A tear ran down the kid’s cheek.

“Ah hell, sir, this is too goddamn much.”

Enough for now. Just want to let you all know that I am writing, and at the moment it’s working out pretty well.

Now, it’ll be a while before this gets out there, but unlike “Demons” (which totally kicked my butt), this one is happening right now alongside the collaborations.

I have fair confidence this one will make it to print.

Some technical help

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So what has started as a bleak and boring winter has started to pick up. There are a number of projects coming up in the near, middle and far term. Pretty cool stuff.

I need some technical help from my UK and Commonwealth readers.

Specifically, how Commonwealth/Empire Regiments are/were named.

I can’t be specific without letting a cat out of the bag, but I need to know how a Commonwealth/BE unit would be named when it had distinguished itself, for example the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

For instance, would the title change to “Queen’s Own Rifles” when by means of example Queen Victoria would ascend the throne? Or would they still be named after King George regardless of who was on the throne at the time?

Curious how this works.

The US system is quite different, where there is a number assigned and then a nickname. For example, the 28th Infantry Division, “The Bloody Bucket.”

Alright, if anyone can clue me in on this, I’d appreciate it!

J

 

 

Clean power

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Yeah, I’ve been on a posting streak lately, but I couldn’t pass this one up. It seems that the Chinese are seriously considering placing a power plant in orbit that would collect energy from the sun and beam it down to Earth.

What a coincidence that I came across this article today, as of late my posts have diverged somewhat from this site’s concept.

This is fascinating, and it overlaps several interests of mine. Space exploitation and exploration, of course. A better future, with desirable outcomes for people. And plain high-tech cool factor.

Just yesterday I was hanging out with my bud Paul, we were tearing apart a bathroom and talking in between noise from a belt sander about just this subject- an orbital power station that would collect energy directly from the sun without worries about weather, storage and the day/night cycles that limit solar power here on Earth.

It’s a great idea, and it looks as if the Chinese are serious about this. I hope they are, Lord knows they have serious problems with smog and pollution from coal-fired energy sources and industry. If anyone needs this, it’s the Chinese.

Kind of floored that our idle chat of yesterday is in the news today. We really do live in a time where science fiction is coming to life. All you have to do to see this is to look at your cellphone; it can barely be compared to the bricks of fifteen years ago.

The changes are coming fast, and accelerating. My childhood can’t be compared to that of my kids, let alone their potential offspring. A fact that still astonishes me is that my recently departed and ancient grandmother rode to school on a horse-drawn wagon, and electricity and indoor plumbing was for city folks when she was a girl. Before she died it seemed that all she did was tell tales, I’m glad I listened.

Yeah, it seems at times that the future is full of threats. But concurrently it’s full of wonders, real no-bullshit cool stuff. There is no way I could have predicted in 1982, standing in a cornfield, that decades later I would be able to communicate and collaborate daily with people on different continents. That I would see the birth of private spaceflight. That a powerful computer would fit in the palm of my hand, and using it to make calls would be the least of its many functions.

I don’t know about you, friend, but a part of me is filled with delight to see these changes. Another part is trepidation, of course, as the unknown is always daunting.

It all comes down to the ancient question; is the glass half full, or half empty?

I say good luck to the Chinese with this orbital power station. Hope they can get it to work.

 

Brown Bess

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I’m not fascinated by weapons. Especially the new ones. They do have their uses, even on civvie street. Firearms can be used to hunt, or to defend one’s person and home. When I was a boy, I enjoyed hunting. Not anymore. It’d have to be pretty desperate times around here for me to shoot an animal, at the moment it’s a lot easier to go to the grocery store. If I never hunt again it’ll be fine.

I’m going to duck the whole discussion about the 2nd Amendment, etc. Suffice it to say that most US citizens have the right to buy anything short of a machine gun or grenade launchers, etc, and the law changes from state to state and even in different cities.

As a civilian, I’ve personally seen weapons used for the good as well as the bad.

The sword cuts both ways. I made a living by handling and using firearms, they are merely tools to me. If I pick up an M4 carbine or an M9 pistol, it feels like work. Nothing more.

But some weapons are different. They feel like history.

I’m a bit of a history buff, so I’m a sucker for this type of thing. Well, over the course of this long and boring winter, I came across an ad on a website, International Military Antiques.

It seems they bought a mountain of antique weapons from the Government of Nepal, to the tune of 50,000 antique firearms and edged weapons.

Nepal is where the famed Gurkha Regiments come from, some of the best soldiers on the planet.

So I was interested on two fronts- here was some serious military history, and some honest-to-God historical weaponry. Most of the stuff didn’t interest me, but the Brown Bess, more properly known as the Land Pattern Musket, did.

Why? When I was a kid my dad took me to a Revolution era re-enactment, I was fascinated by all of the 18th century stuff. Especially the long muskets, and the billowing clouds of smoke that drifted across the fields during battle reenactments. For an eight year old, pretty cool. I really wanted one of those muskets, but my dad laughed. Those things were expensive, and he wasn’t about to spend that kind of dough.

Later on I received a surplus Lee-Enfield to hunt with, but what I really wanted was a Bess. I grew up, went into the service, handled an endless series of firearms, but I never forgot the Brown Bess.

One problem. A reproduction costs over a grand, and the real thing in piss-poor shape about eight.

So I forgot about it. Kind of.

And then I saw the ad from IMA while web surfing one day this winter. A real, no-kidding Bess, in relic condition. Expensive still, but barely doable.

I said the hell with it and whipped out the credit card. One week later and a very long box was on my porch while the snow drifted down. Unboxed it, and it was a pile of rust, just like the ad stated. Came with a new stock because the old one had turned to dust. I looked at what I had, a two hundred odd year old pile of apparent junk, breathed deeply, refused to be intimidated, and went to work after watching about a million YouTube videos. (NOTE: It seems that it’s legal to own a Bess in Australia and the UK, and a lot of enthusiasts live there.)

Soaked the rusty steel in white vinegar, scrubbed and scrubbed at the rust. Slowly but surely the old honest steel came through and I learned a few things.

One thing that was immediately clear was that this ancient piece had seen a lot of hard use. It was probably retired when it couldn’t be reliably fired anymore. Also, the original wood (a few dry-rotted chunks were still stuck to the barrel) was walnut. Not a tree that grows in Nepal, so at least some of the weapon once upon a time was English.

It was a mystery, and now that the project is complete, it still is.

But by God, it’s a Brown Bess, of a similar type to what my ancestors used on whatever side they fought. It’s a connection with history, real and tangible in my hands. My first thought upon completing it and feeling its weight (heavy) was “hey, it’s a pirate gun!”

It was a fun project to tinker with while the snow fell.

Would I ever shoot it? No, nor do I think it could be reliably fired.

I’m happy with the Bess as a historical artifact, an echo of the distant past, preserved for the future.

Shame they can’t all be relics. But they’re not, and it does no good to wish otherwise.

 

Nothing to complain about, really.

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No, this isn’t the weather channel. It’s just been on my mind a lot recently.

It’s easy to see how the weather is one thing that affects all of us, and it’s something you don’t really think about when it’s nice outside. When it gets bad is when you’re confronted by the fickle nature of our Earth, and how dependent we are on pleasant, or at least bearable, circumstances.

Well, this isn’t news to my Australian friends, but for those of us up north, they are getting hammered right now. A years-long drought in Queensland has just ended in a disastrous fashion, flooding has swept through the countryside and an estimated 500,000 head of cattle have perished in the torrential rains.

This is a weather disaster, and it makes my griping about a typical cold Ohio winter seem stupid. Yeah, the cold saps my spirit and the short winter days get me down. But I have nothing to complain about, really.

Thousands of Australian farmers who have lost their livelihood do. It’s the difference between crying over a splinter in your finger and having your hand violently amputated.

I do wonder what role the heating of our oceans and atmosphere are having on the above calamity. It’s certainly having an effect on the phenomenon below.

This would be the potential brewing disaster of the melting of the Antarctic ice sheets, I’ve been tracking this story for a little while. It seems the ice sheets down there are coming apart, slowly but surely. Why should we care? Because if the ice actually melts, a lot of coastal real estate is in trouble. And the majority of human population lives close to the coast.

Look, the Earth has gone through changes in climate over and over again, some in recorded history. An excellent example is the warm climate in Europe during the Middle Ages, followed by the Little Ice Age. So to believe in an absolutely stable climate on Earth is akin to believing that the moon really is made of cheese.

Much like friendships, family, and a good life, our weather and climate really aren’t things to be taken for granted.

Unfortunately, we only realize in retrospect how nice life was before those fine things were altered or removed.

For the foreseeable future, the Earth is our home.

We can’t take anything for granted.

The weather especially.