Sharing the burden

Merton Richard Johnson

As long-time readers may know, this is an image of my dead uncle, who was killed in action in Korea in August of 1952.

Why am I posting a picture of him today.

Some things have me a bit riled up, one of which is the sell-out of the Kurds in Northern Syria. Another is a long-held grudge of mine, stirred up by an article I read today. This plays a bit into my uncle’s tale. It also plays into the tale of many in my family; we have followed the colors disproportionately.

Why? An important part of it is pride and tradition.

Another part is poverty. It can’t be denied that in the US military service is a way out for kids that don’t have a lot of funds.

Which comes to my grudge. Why does such a tiny percentage of the population have to go and fight in a mostly oblivious country’s name?

The article was pretty darn good. I don’t agree with all of it, but I do agree in principle. BLUF: A limited, no exemptions draft would probably end our twilight wars and campaigns. Go ahead, give it a read.

My two cents; a limited program of conscription could be just what we need, given the right preconditions.

  1. No stupid exemptions that let wealthy kids skate.
  2. I agree with the author; all conscripts must be combat arms.
  3. An equal opportunity draft; all comers taken.
  4. Medical disqualifications only approved by military docs.

I don’t agree with the author that the proposed draft be elite-only; this has a whiff of score-settling. I think that such a limited conscription should be utterly random, a real bolt out of the blue. And when someone gets the dreaded certified letter in the mail, it is final, barring overwhelming physical or mental disqualifications.

Actually, this subject came up a fair bit while we were overseas on tour no.X. I’ve heard a number of variations on the theme. The conversations would always revolve around how person X was chilling out at college or something while we were in the desert. Sucking sand while most people had no clue what we were doing; or worse, had no idea that Americans were even present in some of those garden spots.

Wars are simply too common. This has to stop. A good first step would be for people to share the load, as opposed to the same groups getting dipped in shit time and time again.

No one wants peace like a soldier. We spread out the load, and more people will share that thought. Everyone talks about equality? Fine. You may have it. If someone presses an M-4 in your hands, don’t bitch.

It’s the price of being a citizen.

If this happened to tens of thousands of kids each year, there would be political consequences. Big consequences. For example, imagine Baron Trump being assigned as a Private to 5th Marines. Or maybe one of Elizabeth Warren’s granddaughters gets jammed into an Abrams with The Big Red One.

(Chuckles). I’ll bet right now, reader, you are thinking “that wouldn’t happen.”

See? That’s the problem.

Because it won’t.





A headline, a disaster

body bag

The image above is something a lot of people have probably never seen before.

It’s a body bag, shiny and black.

Headline today, October 9th, 2019, in the Wall Street Journal.

“Turkey Begins Offensive Against U.S. Ally in Syria”

Think about that.

People who have done the lion’s share of fighting against the bad guys recently just got sold down the river to those who would like to destroy them.

By us.

I wish I was making this up.

Nope, those are the headlines.




My activities


Alright, a quick post today to give you all a feel for what I’ve been up to. Nothing Earth shattering or crazy, just some steady work helping out a friend. Basically I’ve been doing piecework- coming up with many wildly varying scenarios all within an overriding theme.

It’s been fun because I’ve been revisiting a lot of places I’ve been over the years, setting stories within those locales and inventing both male and female characters, situations. So far I’ve done half-dozen odd of them, it’s been a kick.

I try to limit the stories to a given word count, to distill the message within.

In my novels my chapter lengths usually fell around two to three thousand words. For short stories or vignettes this is too long- you need something short but sweet to grab the readers attention, to string them through the ride.

The desired effect is the elusive “can’t be put down” feature of a good read.

Whether that’s true about this patchwork of stories, I don’t know. If they see the light of day remains to be seen. If so, I’ll be sure to put it out to you all in the form of a link or whatever.

So far though, I’ve been fairly satisfied with what’s been saved to my laptop.

Heading into winter, this means progress.

Sunny days

the crew movin out

Photo: a patrol through marijuana. Today’s subject: events that guide my writing.

Some bad stuff in the past exerts a strong influence over what I write today. The weather has me thinking about this right now.

It was in these sunny days of late September that some tough experiences went down.

The sky was azure, perfect. Beautiful weather. The temperatures during the day were warm enough to work up a sweat, but not stiflingly hot. The nights and early mornings were cool, cold up in the mountains. The Milky Way was on full, glorious display as I sat behind my machine gun.

You can’t adequately describe how electric and deadly it all felt. Combat.

Beneath the azure sky, the pinprick stars, the ghostly dawn. The cold shock of water as I waded through it at 0200 hours. The reek of marijuana. The radio calls. The brute weight of gear, shortness of breath.

My teeth chatter thinking on it, my hand shakes.

And that’s the problem.

In the quiet hours the past comes to visit me, it pads up behind me like a sneak thief. You can run as much as you like, but sooner or later you tire, you slow.

And there it sits, waiting.

For how long, I do not know.

For decades, generations. Long after the last shot, the pain remains.

Maybe my M-4 has been re-tooled at the arsenal, maybe Anniston, and has been handed back out. Or perhaps it slumbers in a crate, placed in reserve status. It could also be that nothing was done to it and it was given to a Basic outfit, to be used until entirely useless. All these fates are possible for the weapon once named after my oldest child, a chunk of steel, aluminum and plastic carried into some of the worst places on Earth.

The weapon and my body escaped.

I have not. There is no Anniston for old soldiers. The fleshy part of the weapons system can’t be re-barreled, have a few springs replaced, or get hosed down with Cerakote.

A shame.

No, we have what we have. Memories best left alone. Experiences no one understands. Wordless gaps of knowledge.

This. This is why I write. To communicate, to share. To illustrate.

To let those we left behind know what we did over there. Even if it’s in a science fiction format. Maybe better in a sci-fi format because then you can distance yourself from the words.

Words are a record, an echo, Plato’s shadows on the cave.

They are what we use to transmit the knowledge of good or evil.

I heard someone say once that it’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes. This is true, and there is no better reason for why people should read and write. We can’t predict the future, but we can look at the past and draw appropriate lessons from history. This is why I write; I have a duty to entertain, but also to inform.

What am I getting at?

I guess what I want to say is not to go to war unless you have a damn good reason.

Why? Everyone involved gets a life sentence. Men, women, children, the guilty and the innocent. Everyone remembers.

I do, and I shiver.

Especially on these crisp, sunny days.








Service Dog Down


No, the dog pictured above is not Rick Boreham’s service dog, the dog in question. It’s my dog, Dixie. She’s the reason I don’t have a service dog myself, the VA offered me one once.

Here’s the reason for this post- Rick’s dog got hurt, and he started a GoFundMe page for the operation- apparently the Australian version of the VA does not cover veterinarian costs for service animals. A shame.

Well, I chipped in a modest amount, and if you can go ahead and pitch in as well. These dogs make a difference, I see them all the time at the hospital.

Rick has gone out and done the thing for God and Country, and part of the eventual result of him doing so was receiving a Combat Stress service dog. Now she’s hurt.

I think we can extend the VA’s motto to include a worthy ally who has paid the price of admission.

“To care for him who shall have borne the battle.”

For Nomi, the service dog.

What are you, exactly?


An answer? Zeroes and Ones.

There’s a short list of books which rank among my very favorite reads. Among these are Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, and recently The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham. Something these works have in common is the concept of eternal, or at least extended, life through digital storage. Of course, they propose different mechanisms for this to happen, but the underlying thought is the same.

One of the intriguing, exciting, thoughts that both books explore is the effect that this digitization would have on society as humanity expands to the stars. Both authors delve into the negatives of such societies, as well as the upsides. This is amazing stuff.

So imagine my excitement when the Wall Street Journal released an essay by Michael S.A. Graziano this weekend entitled “Will Your Uploaded Mind Still Be You?” Right up front I must mention that Dr. Graziano is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton, and the essay is derived from a book he has coming out called “Rethinking Consciousness: A Scientific Theory of Subjective Experience.” I’ll include a link to the article, but it’s of limited value to those who are not subscribers. For obvious reasons I can’t cut and paste the article here, but there’s nothing stopping me from discussing it.

The essay is amazing, and it’s timely arrival is quite a coincidence as it dovetails with my recent deep-dive into The Cruel Stars. Dr. Graziano states that replication of the mind and memory will eventually be possible, if two conditions are met. First, a simulated mind structure must be built. Second, one would need a complete brain scan, a map of all the neurons in the brain and how they interact with one another. This scan would then be overlaid onto the artificial brain.

The good doctor states in his piece that the first condition is nearly feasible with current technology and engineering (a definite surprise to me), but the second condition is decades or possibly centuries away. He cites the fact that a complete map of a roundworm’s brain with 300 neurons was recently completed by a team at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. It took ten years to complete.

The human brain has 86 billion neurons.

However, Dr. Graziano is confident that the technology to do “life transfers” will absolutely exist one day, and we should think about the ethics now.

If I was having a conversation with the Doctor, I would mention that the conversation has already started with Altered Carbon and The Cruel Stars. After all, how much of what we currently use on a routine basis started out as pie in the sky sci-fi stuff? An excellent example would be the humble smart phone. My eighteen dollar Chinese piece of junk can build an atomic bomb, given the correct inputs. Fantasy has a tendency to become reality.

And here I return to another subject that Dr. Graziano touches upon in his essay, how a human expansion into space may only be possible with a digitization of the mind. After all, we don’t do well with tedium or cosmic radiation. He proposes that “people” on the long, slow journey possible with current technology would be uploaded into an onboard cloud, free to do whatever, speak to whomever during the decades long journey.

Subjectively, they could be at Bondi Beach down in Australia while their electronic minds  travel via the slow boat to Alpha Centauri or something. When the ship arrives, they can imprint into a robot or a clone, the possibilities are endless.

The impression I got from the article was that this stuff is going to happen.

The implications are endless. Haves and have nots. Religion. Culture. Schooling. Military service.

Digital immortality?

Dr. Graziano is right. We need to think this over, because it is coming.

Morgan and Birmingham have started the conversation.


Exciting Mars stuff


Image by Space X.

Some pretty cool space developments, it looks as if Space X has been requesting hi-res images on Mars for… drumroll… landing/colonization sites. Lord, these people are awesome.

Really cool article here. By all means, check it out.

These people are serious. I guess what I fear most is that our one good chance at making this work will be screwed by some horrible development, like a large rocket blowing up and frying everyone aboard (causing a predictable heavy-handed knee-jerk reaction), or some other negative development. I also wonder if maybe some malign actor from a competing company will try their hand at industrial sabotage- after all, Space X isn’t sucking as hard from the taxpayer tit as some do, to the tune of many billions for little result. I could name names, but I don’t think I have to.

Speaking of the government, it looks as if the USAF is expanding its famous test-pilot program for space operations. Click on this link to find out about this; you know stuff is getting serious when the guys with the guns want to expand operations into the ultimate high ground, space.

This is really an active, hopeful time for space exploration. Really the most active time since the sixties for serious efforts toward deep space exploration; I’ve been waiting my whole life for this. About damn time.

Elon Musk and others on his wavelength want to expand into space for reasons of species continuity (and a tad of the old pioneer spirit), I think that’s a really good idea. Not to mention economic exploitation of unknown assets out there- it’s hard to tell what we may come across out in the asteroid belt, on the moon, etc.

Think heavy industry. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could move the really nasty stuff off planet, and mine the minerals that are floating around out there? It would be an elegant solution. Transport, of course, is the primary obstacle. But if we could get the costs down with economies of scale it would be great. Leave the strip mining and ore processing to space. If there is no environment to begin with, then industrial plants in the hard vacuum make a lot more sense out there than say in the middle of a residential neighborhood down here.

I dunno. I’d be happy with a decent little city on Mars within my lifespan. Space travel as a boring routine. The beginnings of real economic expansion within the solar system. If I can see that, then I guess I’ll die pretty happy.

Hopefully a while from now, of course.

But I want to see this stuff before I go.


Help Wanted


Painting by Dean Cornwell, 1924.

Hey readers.

Right now I’m in a bit of a lull between projects and I need a hand with something. Maybe I’ve put out this request before, but I don’t think so.

My beta crew is awesome, I’ve received a fair bit of feedback on my latest manuscript, the unnamed alternate history. But there’s something missing.

I’d like feedback from women. This is important to me for a number of reasons.

First, it would be stupid to ignore the feedback of a bit over half of the human race.

Second, there is a woman’s POV in the book, I’d like to get it right. She’s an important character; as I wrote I liked her more and more. Am curious if her voice, tone, is realistic.

Finally, even though this is a war novel based in an era when war was primarily a male occupation, women and thoughts of women are never far from the concerns of the Joes in the book. Let me return to the first point. I risk ignoring half of the human race at my peril.

So I won’t.

This is a specific appeal- I’d very much like to have some female betas.

If you are interested, you can reach me through the “contact” tab on this website’s main page.




2co dismount crew 2 edited

Photo above is me in the field with NATO allies, a currently unfashionable concept. BLUF: We abandon such friends and comrades at our hazard.

There are a lot of things going right with the world. An example would be the recent test flight of the Starhopper, a platform for experimentation on the Starship, Space X’s roll of the dice for Mars colonization. Other things are the increasing scale and marketability of green technologies, see my previous post about Harley-Davidson and their awesome electric bike. In human history there has never been such a prolonged period of rising standards and life expectancies; this is a golden age.

History teaches us that golden ages eventually get trashed.

Read an interesting article today on the Wall Street Journal, it’s an excerpt from an upcoming book by General Jim Mattis, USMC, (Ret). It’s behind a paywall, so unless you’re a subscriber, you’re out of luck. But the name of the article says a lot. It’s called “Jim Mattis: Duty, Democracy and the Threat of Tribalism.”

This, readers, is how our golden age ends. We break apart into warring factions centered around rigid tribal allegiances, ethnicity and religion. General Mattis is sounding the alarm bell, the man knows what the hell he is talking about.

We need allies. Period. When the US ducked back into its protective shell in the 1920’s, we all know what happened. Bad stuff. Why should people be so naive as to think that the same won’t happen now, with a deeply interconnected world? With enemies that can easily reach us, with threats that appear as whispers on a column of ones and zeroes? It is madness to assume a state of perpetual peace, or to wish blooming threats away.

It’s far better to have a string of friends across the globe who can give us early warning about things that go bump in the night in their neighborhoods. Things that can metastasize and blow up in our faces. Forward defense is a hell of a lot better than having to deal with a catastrophe on your own soil, I would have thought that September  11, 2001 would have taught us that.

But no. Many are reverting back to the old, hoary isolationist standpoint, that we can hold off threats at our borders. That bad guys can’t possibly cross the sea and threaten us. Come on. Seriously?

Yeah, seriously.

At the same time, factions here in the ‘States are busy demonizing each other and accusing the other side of treason on a routine basis. This is hyperbole and misuse of a serious charge. If there is real treason, let it be sniffed out by the appropriate intelligence agencies and dealt with by either military law or civilian law enforcement, whichever is appropriate. And let the guilty be hung as opposed to misusing and overusing the term.

What’s really funny is when people blame immigrants, legal or illegal, for all of our ills. Curiously, I hear people carping whose direct ancestors came over on the boat within living memory. When asked about this, people say “well it was different for my (father, mother, aunt, etc.). How come? The United States was founded on legal immigration. How much poorer would we as a nation be without immigrants? Think Albert Einstein, among others. Along with your favorite aunt, or the barely remembered grandfather who gave you a dollar bill on your birthday.

Some of the trends mentioned above, and warned about by people such as General Mattis, are building into threatening clouds on the horizon.

Golden ages do not last because we wish them to last. They must be sustained, maintained and defended. Like roses or friendships. If not tended to, they die.

If a society can no longer justify its reason for being, if no one will step forward to defend it, it will perish. Either externally by aggression, or internally by strife.

The old tribes haven’t died, nor the poisonous and virulent ideologies that feed their rage.

I look forward to reading Mattis’s book.



A miracle

TCS and corn

Brisbane, Australia is 14,920km (9271mi) from the little town where I hang my hat. As you all may know, Brisbane is where the Australian author John Birmingham lives and writes.

OK, this may seem like Cruel Stars month on my website, but I’m actually going a different direction today. Before I do, though, go buy the book. It’s pretty awesome. OK, ’nuff said.

9,271 miles is a long damn way, almost as far as you can get on planet Earth without jumping on a space ship. So why do I mention this?

Easy. I had occasion this morning to visit a couple of local book shops, one small and one large. To satisfy my curiosity, I took a look at the sci-fi section and looked at “B.” Both book stores had The Cruel Stars, this thing must be literally everywhere.

Think about that. An author 9200 miles away sits down at a desk and toils. After a long period of sustained effort, he submits his work to a publisher. There is back and forth, a series of edits and adjustments spanning the Pacific Ocean and thousands of miles. Finally, a publication date is set. Printing presses in New York (?), maybe, get fired up and thousands of books are cranked out. Thousands.

This process repeats itself worldwide.

In the meanwhile, digital copy is made, along with an audio book.

A release date is set for a worldwide Time on Target of 0001 hours, 20 August 2019. This time and date rolls westward as the Earth slowly spins about its axis. The lucky people in Brisbane get it first. Unfortunates in Hawaii get it last.

On the 20th of August digital code allows pre-orders to open books on devices worldwide, all of which runs in different time zones. Large booksellers such as Barnes and Noble start to ship hardcopies, stock people in thousands upon thousands of stores place the new books on wheeled carts and stock shelves.

A book launch by a major publisher is an astonishing display of logistics, marketing, programming, and execution.

As I stood in the little book store thousands of miles away from the author, these thoughts went through my head. I picked up a copy, leafed through it, and carried it to the register. It seemed that I wanted to purchase another hardcopy as a gift to my old Team Sergeant, so this book, copy XXXX of who knows how many thousand, left the store with me.

It rode on the back seat of my car. As I drove, I marveled at all the threads that came together to make the book’s journey complete. Had the idea to write this article, put the book in front of some Indian corn and took a picture. Sent the picture via my phone to the computer. This is another technological marvel that we take for granted.

Posted picture.

It really is a miracle, if you stop to think of it. An Australian product by a talented writer lands in Appalachia, thousands of miles away.

Miracles as a routine.

I took some time today to appreciate this one.

Hope my Team Sergeant likes it; The Cruel Stars is the ripe fruit of the labor of thousands- starting with JB, 9200 miles away.

This is amazing to me.