Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Short Easter Morning Medidation

I haven't been paying attention to the church year. That's a slight departure for me, because I spent a great part of my adult life as a member of two denominations which closely follow the liturgical seasons; first as a Lutheran, then for a longer period as a Methodist.

Today, though, I appear to have dropped even below the level of my Baptist upbringing, which at least recognized Christmas and Easter. If I thought you were interested, or if I were interested, I could give you a historical and personal perspective on the significance of closely following the church seasons. I'd give you a particularly wonderful paragraph on my observance of Lenten fasts.

This year, though, I think the ONLY Easter observance in my house came when my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, bought a bag of peanut butter and chocolate eggs, for the adults to eat after the kids went to bed. No Easter bonnets, no Easter baskets, no preparation of any kind, material of spiritual.

And here's the point: on the first Easter morning, nobody was prepared, either. The Marys went to the tomb that morning, but weren't prepared for what they would find there. The men didn't even do that.

And then, a miracle happened. Catch me at a different time, and I'll tell you how this proves that God has a sense of humor.

Right now, though, I feel like one of the un-involved in  the sticks outside the city. Barely knowing, maybe not knowing at all, that there was anything going on. Concerned about what the pain in my back means for the day's work. Wondering if the people I care about who are goofing up are going to start making better choices. Not anticipating any changes.

And while I spoon up my breakfast gruel in the sticks (actually, it's Cheerios, not gruel),,,I wonder if the miracles that God is doing are going to reach me? And will I recognize them if they do? And will I respond to them if I recognize them?

Christ is risen;
He is risen indeed!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The REVIEW of Black Tide Rising


John Ringo; Gary Poole (2016-06-07).  Baen. Kindle Edition.

John Ringo is one of the most insanely prolific writers out there. While I was looking for my coffee cup this morning, he wrote seven or eight books, and they are all going to be best sellers.
The only problem with that, is that he was eating all the meat! There wasn't anything left, because John was writing it. So, he got nice on us, and opened up the world.

The result is Black Tide Rising.

Here's the background: an unknown evil genius used SCIENCE to combine two diseases into one. You can get infected either by air-borne transmission, or by direct contact, and in most cases, the next thing you feel are flu symptoms. Those are followed by the sensation of something crawling all over you, so you rip off your clothes, and then the second stage of the disease kicks in: rabies. You loose your ability to reason, and bite anyone you can reach.There is no cure. However, by taking material from the spine of infected primates (which quickly became humans, as the monkey supply was inadequate), a two-stage vaccine was possible.

On land, most of civilization disintegrated immediately. At sea, a determined family and friends formed a nucleus of hope.

It was hard on everybody.

This volume contains, if I have done my counting correctly, 12 stories by 14 authors. At least, there are 14 author biographies at the back of the book. When I ripped through my count, I didn't see Gary Poole's name attached to a story, but he is the co-editor of the anthology with John Ringo, and has also written some preliminary material.

Confession time: I absolutely LOVE this series! So, when I got the book, I ripped through it in one setting. And that means that this particular review is going to take me a LONG time to write, since I'm going to re-read every story in order to make the correct comments. All of the stories are about ordinary people, although some have already been radically changed by conditions. Others are just facing the plague as it hits. Some of the stories are upbeat; others are miserable in tone; some aren't really stories in which something happens, but just thought-pieces in which the characters reveal how the apocalypse has impacted them. Here's my prejudice (one of them; one I'm aware of) up front: I like stories in which good guys win. I don't like stories in which the last good guy gets shot by the rescue squad after standing off evil dead all night long.


Story 1: Never Been Kissed, by John Ringo. Here's a kicker for ya: Faith, who is the epitome of the action hero, who has done more for the morale of her team than anyone else: cleans her weapons. That's it. And while she's doing that, she talks about one of the small rites of passage the holocaust has stripped away.

Story 2: Up on the Roof, by Eric Flint. Old blue-collar workers trapped in Chicago have to figure out a way to survive, or they might as well cut their throats. Their solution is to take refuge on the top of gigantic storage tanks. Initially, the problem isn't how to deal with the zombies, but how to incorporate late-comers, since not everyone comes with the same degree of preparedness.

Story 3: Staying Human, by Jody Lynn Nye. A woman who has become an effective part of a Hunter-Killer couple always keeps a lookout for the mail carrier who turned, and killed her wife and son. When the scientists think they may have a treatment that will reverse the neurological effects of the virus, she has to choose.

Story 4: On the Wall, by John Sclazi & Dave Klecha. This is a slice of life story, I suppose; or maybe it isn't. I didn't bother to look up the definition, although I did re-read the story. It's funny, in an irritating way. There are two guys pulling guard duty on the wall: Jim, who seems reasonable competent, and Keith, who just comes across to me as an obnoxious dork. Maybe I'm missing the point entirely, but this story leaves me wondering if, after the end of the world as we know it, I would shoot somebody just because they were irritating. I can think of some people I would have nominated for that role, and Keith falls into that group. It might take you a bit to get into the story structure, but persevere. I think you will find it worth it.

Story 5: Do No Harm, by  Sarah A. Hoyt.
A talented health-care worker, with aspirations of becoming a doctor, is forced onto the direct battle against plague-infected individuals as the order in a hospital breaks down.Her understanding of the core of medicine, represented by the oath 'First, Do No Harm,' is shattered along with everything else she believes in.

Story 6: Not in Vain, by Kacey Ezell. I was not a fan of cheerleaders, until I actually met with some of them, and found that they are pretty much like any other group of athletes: mostly serious about their sport, and not any more likely to be mean girls than anyone else. YMMV, but this was my experience in working directly with a group of them. That impression is consistent with the behavior we see in a group of cheerleaders on their way back home from a cheerleading competition when the plague hits. Fortunately for them, their coach is a combat veteran, and never goes without a firearm for protection for herself and her girls. The bonds of friendship and team loyalty hold them together, even when some members of the troupe succumb to the virus.

Story 7: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Grandpa? by Michael Z. Williamson
Grandpa has been preparing for the end of the world as we know it, and consequently, his family thinks he's nuts. So, to keep from being institutionalized, he gets rid of his guns. They THINK he gets rid of his guns, that is. Of course,when everything collapses, his place is where they run to for help. But, he can whip them into shape. (I identify strongly with Grandpa, but I haven't reached his level. Yet.)

Story 8: Battle of the BERTs, by Mike Massa
BERTs are Biological Emergency Response Teams, contained in large vehicles which allow for the restraint of infected vehicles. ‌initially, they were used to transport infected to holding cells while treatment options were sought; later, they were used to harvest the infected so that their spines could be extracted to make vaccine.
This story gave me the creeps. It's not enough that civilized structures are collapsing, but here we have various types of bureaucrats fighting over turf. Probably  a likely scenario, but somehow nastier than the others.

Story 9: The Road to Good Intentions, by  Tedd Roberts
There are still some beautifully isolated areas in the the Appalachian Mountains, and I've spent plenty of wonderful times camping and motorcycling through that area. The protagonist of this next story doesn't seem to be able to make up his mind, though; he heads for the hills, but he drags along his significant other who is not at all on board with his plan. He insists on having a distorted view of the local pastor, regarding him as an old school fire and brimstone preacher, instead of a man who has care for his flock. And, as far as I can tell, his inability to face up to reality drives him insane.

Story 10: 200 Miles to Huntsville, by  Christopher Smith.
On what appears to be a routine prisoner transfer, the senior police officer turns out to be planning to get hidden loot from the prisoner. When he comes down with the virus, things change.
And then it gets weird. Maybe you'll like the weird part; it was a little over the top for me.

Story 11: Best Laid Plans, by Jason Cordova & Eric S. Brown
A group of thieves plan to steal from the Louvre, but then the plague strikes, and chaos reigns.
They continue the plan, and do, in fact, escape with lots of materials.
And it never seems to occur to them that the basis for a world economy has vanished, and that sandy paradises will be prime hunting grounds for the infected.

Story 12: The Meaning of Freedom, by John Ringo
Trust John Ringo to complicate a Zombie Apocalypse.
It turns out that the infected fall into two different categories: Alphas, which are hugely aggressive, and must be killed on sight; and Betas, which are passive, don't attack, and as it turns out, are trainable. The ethical dilemma is huge: if left to their own devices, they may starve, or become prey to the Alphas; however, those not infected must either provide direct care for them, or establish a societal structure to accommodate them.
And there is, metaphorically speaking, an awful lot of cotton to be picked.

I am not a fan of the zombie genre; I will NOT watch or read straight-up horror. However, Ringo's world isn't REALLY about zombies; it's about people who have been infected with a weaponized virus set. Maybe I'm trying to do something that can't be done, here, in distinguishing between zombie lit and biological attacks, but it leaves me feeling a bit, well, cleaner, I suppose. I thought all the stories were well-written, but I enjoyed reading stories 1 - 7 and 12; numbers 8-11 made me feel icky; I THINK (but I'm not sure) that's because those were the darker, zombie B-movie sort of stories. I know some people love those.

And I want to give a big shout-out to Brother Dave Truesdale, who INSISTED that the proper way to review was to disregard the author, and just evaluate the story. It wasn't easy, Dave, but I gave it my best.

Monday, March 21, 2016

What Vox Day and George R R Martin Have In Common

There are MANY things, actually, that VD & GRRM have in common, not the least of which is the fact that they both publish blogs that get more attention than I do. 
Most of the science fiction world would be inclined to categorize them based on their differences, rather than their commonalities, though. The controversy surrounding the Hugo Award process has certainly brought their differences into the forefront of conversations, rather than their similarities.

However, a late night conversation with a friend caused me to do some reflection on the matter, and I have the following conclusion: in my opinion, both Vox Day and George R R Martin deserve my personal thanks, which this insignificant blog post is designed to express. If any reader happens to have the ear of either of these gentlemen, please forward my thanks to them.

In the case of Vox Day, that may not be necessary, for I have already thanked him for his consideration. Regardless of your opinion of him, I think that we can all agree that he is a busy man, and as publisher of Castalia House, he has demands on his time that extend far beyond his somewhat extra-curricular activities as a columnist, not to speak of his own work as an author. And yet, TWICE in the past year, he has responded to requests for assistance, which I made in association with my role as a reviewer. 

I'll admit that my reviews are probably read by more people than my blog, but that's not saying very much. I haven't checked lately, but NO post on this blog has ever gotten more than 500+ hits, and few have reached as many as 300. So, to say that my reviews probably are viewed by more people than my blog is tantamount to saying that Ball Ground, Georgia has a smaller population than than Gross Saschenheim, Germany. Neither of those places is a hotbed of bright lights and cutting edge music, although I have experienced delightful moments in both places.

My reviews (and I speak of those on Amazon, not those on my blog) are more popular, and I know that because my current ranking is 5977. When I started looking at my ranking, it was 14,360,604, and that was after I had been reviewing for a couple of months. So, I'm PROUD of the progress I've made, but I'm also quite aware that my impact on the field is: tiny. And therefore, I was hesitant about approaching the publisher of Castalia House and asking for review copies of books. I was doing a series of reviews as a run-up to the announcement of the Hugo Awards, and there were several Castalia House titles I could not obtain from other sources.
(NOTE: They were, in fact, available for purchase, but as I am on a fixed income, my book budget is restricted to what I spend on  my Kindle Unlimited subscription. They were also available to registered voters at WorldCon, but at the time of my request, that option wasn't available.)
In reply to my request, I received a prompt and courteous email, with attachments. The works I had requested were supplied, and there was no hint of a quid pro quo arrangement (other than a fair review). I was pleasantly surprised.
Later, in the course of reviewing "Welcome to the Doomsphere," a book describing the Hugo Award events from the perspective of author and con organizer Matthew M. Foster, I had occasion to quote a reference to Vox Day in my review. Upon the publication of my review, I was immediately told that my statement was inaccurate, and I went directly to the source to ask for his version. Again, he replied immediately and courteously, and gave a complete and succinct statement of his version of the events, which I appended to my review and to the places I had posted it. 
THUS: my personal thanks to Vox Day for the courtesy he has shown me over the past year. I make no further statement regarding him, his actions or his beliefs.

Secondly, my thanks to George R R Martin.  These are prompted by a much more recent event, which is a return to the research I did for my blog post on the Mixon Report ; the return was in response to  a conversation I had with a friend last night. As I was re-reading the material (which I highly recommend to all) I discovered that she had been encourage by none other than George R R Martin in her research and subsequent publication. 
Now, I must confess that I am not a fan of Mr. Martin, for what may seem to be an utterly trivial and perhaps foolish reason. I was given all of the copies of his "Fire and Ice" series by my much-loved first-born son, and after a couple of false starts, I began to devour them. I was appalled to discover at the end of the final published book that the story was not resolved, that NO part of the story had been resolved, and that there were new elements being introduced instead. I felt almost as if I had been deliberately lead astray.
Now, THAT part was childish, on my behalf. Had I done the LEAST bit of research, I would have discovered that the series was unfinished, and that plot points were hanging. It just never occurred to me to ask. 
So, I chose to have a certain snippiness in my attitude to Mr. Martin, and I decided I wasn't going to read any more of the series, even if it were completed. That was a bad attitude I chose for myself.
But last night, as I was re-reading Laura Mixon discuss what she had been through in researching and publishing her report, I found myself being very grateful for his support for her. She is, by her own admission, a very small fish in a very great ocean, and he is a person of great influence and reputation. Therefore, his support was enormously valuable to her, and I think it's likely that without that support, the Mixon Report might not have come to be.
And therefore: thank you, George R R Martin; I am most grateful for your contribution.

Parenthetically: as far as I can determine, Laura Mixon and I are not seated close to each other in the big tent of science fiction. She self-identifies as a member of the progressive element, and I am just a reader (and reviewer). However, her statements have consistently supported the idea that there is room under the tent for everybody, and that's what I believe as well. So, I will wave at her from wherever it is that I sit, and if she sees me, I have no doubt that she will wave back.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rating Black Tide Rising, plus Universe Rules

Sister Marina Fontaine asked me how I could come up with an Amazon rating for an anthology which contained a story of contested merit. 
Therefore, having read the book, I now have to review it, and I'm not yet over the issues which took me off-line for a week, But before I write the Amazon review, I'm gonna blog on the background issues.
First, and most boring to you, dear reader, is the reason I've been off-line for a week. I have the great good fortune to be the recipient of a fabulous DNA package which incorporates genes for exceedingly manly height, outstandingly handsome facial features, and a scintillating intellect which rivals that of a Sicilian with a speech impediment. It also brings a late-blooming feature of HLA-B27, which sometimes manifests as ankylosing spondylitis, a progressive degenerative disease, mostly appearing as joint pain, and accompanied in blood tests by extremely high levels of inflammation. It hurts. Always, it hurts, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. And, a few months ago, I discovered that the use of the keyboard was causing me such pain in my hands, that I had to come up with an alternative. I found that I was able to use the built-in speech recognition in Windows 7, and so I dictated merrily away, soon finding that the interface was not interfering with my awr-inspiring creative processes.
Then, the bluetooth dongle stopped working, so it's back to the keyboard again. And that's what I'm doing now. I anticipate I'll have some unknown amount of time before my hands start hurting again, but what the heck; we have no guarantees that ANY part of our body is going to function, period, so I have no reason to complain. 
I may whine pathetically some time when I am in a particular spasm mode, or when the pain centers in one area for a long period of time and JUST WON'T GO AWAY, because it HURTS, dammit, but that's NOT complaining. I'm not going to pretend it doesn't hurt, but I'm not going to say it's not fair, or I don't deserve this, or one of those stupid statements. People who complain misunderstand the rules of the universe. Here are the relevant rules: 
1. You are going to die. So is everybody you know and love, and know and hate, and don't know at all.
2. It's not personal, but it remains lethal.
3. Before you die, you are going to experience pain. Of all kinds.
4. You get to choose how you are going to deal with that, up to the point at which you are overwhelmed.
(The following isn't a rule of the universe, but it's worth incorporating:)
5. Until you are overwhelmed, don't treat people like a jerk.

And now, back to the question posed by Sister Marina: how do I evaluate an anthology containing a story of contested merit.
Brother Dave Truesdale pointed out that readers/reviewers have to discriminate between the STORY and the AUTHOR in evaluating a work. That's true, and it's also rather difficult, because of something called the 'halo' effect; if a person has accomplished a Great Thing, the side effect is that true perception of their other work is blurred, because it is seen through a filter of the Greatness of the Great Thing. Same thing is true if the person has done a Horrid Thing, although I suppose that could be called the 'horns' effect.

So: what's the specific application? 
Black Tide Rising is a collection of stories, written in a world established by John Ringo, in which a genetically engineered rabies virus infects enough people to end civilization as we know it. It contains a story by one John Scalzi, titled "On the Wall." And Scalzi is on "The Other Side."

It is IMPOSSIBLE to summarize the rift which has grown up among members of the science fiction community, but there is one, and it's not a simple canyon. It's more like lots of them; think erosion and meteor impact, and you might get an idea of the splinter groups. But a lot of it has to do with the Hugo Award process, and it. sort of, has provided a focal point for the nastygrams posted everywhere in the last twelve months. And there is a somewhat artificial designation of people into the categories of 'Puppies' and 'Puppy Kickers.' As a GENERAL RULE (!!!), 'Puppies' are identified with Baen, and 'Puppy Kickers' are identified with Tor; NOTABLE exceptions to this are Baen authors John Ringo, himself, who doesn't give a fuzzy rip about the Hugo Award, and Eric Flint, who appears to regard it all as sound and wind, signifying nothing.

So: how does a story by John Scalzi, roundly derided by Puppies, show up in a Baen anthology, alongside such prominent Puppies as Sarah A. Hoyt?

Not a clue. Not a freaken clue. Feel free to speculate.

I DO know this: John Scalzi HAD, at one point, three books available through the Baen website. Those three are no longer available for purchase through Baen, but may be downloaded if previously purchased, and that's a relatively new status (as in, I have no freepen idea when it happened).

But: WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Well, I think we are just going to have to wait to discover that. Keep the pitchforks and torches where you can get at them, but you may want to keep some specially-fed meat animals on hand as well, in case a feast is called for.

But, in a short answer to Sister Marina, I'm going to try to follow Brother Dave's advice. I THINK, although I'm not sure, that this is a case in which I can do that. I'm certainly not going to penalize the rest of the book, if I find one story to be a problem.
Maybe I write the review tomorrow.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Past: Lessons From A Donkey

From Thursday, June 6, 2013

In Numbers, there's the story of Balaam, a sorceror-type, and his donkey. I won't go into the rest of it, but Balaam sets out on a journey the LORD doesn't want him to, and an angel stands in front of him with a sword to kill him. Balaam doesn't see thee angel, but the donkey does, and twice turns aside, then lies down in the road. Balaam beats the donkey fiercely, and then God opens the donkey's mouth.
"Why are you beating me ? Haven't I always been a good donkey? Have I ever acted like this before?" 
And then Balaam sees the angel, and the angel explains everything to him, and he goes about his business.

Have I ever acted like this before?

Pretty important question.
How HAVE you acted before? Because that's pretty much going to determine the response you get today, for good or for bad.

Thirty-some years ago: I wonder what my father said that day that I missed hearing him speak. I didn't hear him speak because it was in a Sunday School class of his age group, the 60+, and I was low 30s. He had brought me to hear him speak, and I knew that; but as I looked around, I saw I was the only 30s guy there, and I commented on that. He gave me a funny look, and asked me if I wanted to go to a class my age; and then he took me there.
So I don't know what he said that day. 
But I wonder: even if I had heard him speak that day: Could I have heard it? I just don't think i could have gotten the message. See, my father was a mean old man. And yes, in his old age, he was working on finding peace with God, and by the time he died twenty years later, I could talk to him about spiritual things, because he was dying and we all knew it. And the worst part of the meanness just wasn't showing up at that point. But on that day, now thirty years ago, there was no way I was going to be able to hear a spiritual message from a mean old man. So I played the youth card, and got out of there. I know it disappointed him, but I just didn't care. I wasn't gonna listen to spiritual words coming from a man who had made fun of my pants that morning, who had been a tyrant to me his entire life.
Now, I can play the donkey scene over in my head; sometimes I'm the donkey, sometimes he is; depends on how I want to cast the story. It works both ways.
I'm NOT, definitely NOT, arguing against a late-in-life conversion. All I'm saying is, if you wanna be treated like a good donkey, you better have been a good donkey all your life. And there's more to that, but all I'm gonna write now.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A blast, etc: Feb 20, 2103

Continuing to re-post older work, until I can figure out how I'm going to be able to do new work. No book review here.

In my last post, I talked about carrying baggage in war. If ya didn't read it, you should, but to sum up: it's a bad idea. 
Now, there IS a way to take loot that's not gonna slow the troops down, and that way requires that the troops trust the leaders. Instead of each individual trooper grabbing whatever was valuable, if everybody agrees that the really valuable items (in the case of Jericho, that would be gold and silver  and bronze and iron ) will all be collected for the common good, then nobody gets distracted when it's clobberin' time, and everybody knows that the good stuff is cared for until it's distribution time. And that's the arrangement we find at Jericho. All it requires is trust.
And it didn't work, because there was this one guy who didn't trust the leadership. His name was Achan, which translates as "I'm gonna really mess things up for my buddies because I'm selfish and don't trust Joshua to take care of me" (variant reading...). And Achan took some stuff, and  I'll talk about the significance of what he took later.
So: it's after Jericho. With God's help, the walls came a tumblin' down, and Joshua's army (between 20 and forty thousand fighters, depending on how many troops are in an eleph ) stomp Jericho and burn it.  And Joshua sends some troops to check out Ai, and they come back and say: It's too small to take everybody. Just send a few thousand to take it.
And here, it becomes speculation on my part, but it's speculation based on experience. 
What's going through the minds of those three thousand who went to Ai? Don't know; but I do know what would be going through the minds of any groups of people I've ever had contact with under similar circumstances" "Why do WE always get stuck with the dirty work? "
Maybe the three thousand picked to go to Ai were the three thousand who had distinguished themselves in some way in Jericho. In that case: "Oh, so this is our reward for doing well? We get picked to fight again? All those other guys, they didn't do squat in Jericho, we were the ones who stomped it flat, and so now instead of making THEM do the work, they get to sit back and eat pickled herring while we sweat and bleed. "
Maybe the three thousand were the malcontents. Maybe Joshua said to sub-commanders, hey, each one of you give me about a hundred men to go form a new unit to go do some fighting. And each one of the sub commanders told their sub-sub commanders, and so forth, until it got down to squad level, and then who is the squad leader gonna pick? His best fighter? Nope. He's gonna pick the odds and sods, guys who fall over their feet, guys he's happy to get rid of. In which case: "That crummy sergeant has it in for me. He's always picking on me, and now he's trying to get me killed. Well, somebody's gonna get killed, but it ain't gonna be ME!"
Okay, there's no way of KNOWING what was going through the minds of the three thousand, because the Bible is silent on the issue, but we DO know what happened to them. And from knowing what happened we can make a GUESS, just a GUESS (!) about their morale:
"There's nothing in it for me. Even if I bust my hump to whack this little town, there's nothing in it worth having, and what IS there is going into the common pot, so it doesn't make any difference what I do. And meanwhile, all those guys sitting back at the tents are eating pizza, and they are going to get the same cut as I am, so I'm gonna hang back, just a bit."
Look, it's just a guess, okay?
But whatever was going through their minds before the attack, it's pretty clear what went through their minds after the attack: RUN AWAY!!!!!
And this we know because the men of Ai killed 36 of them on the spot, and even though that was only a little more than one out of a hundred, the rest ran. And people who know a lot more about battles than I do say you always lose more troops in a rout than you do in an actual battle. Troops who have been routed throw down heavy things, like swords and spears and shields and helmets, and run. And they make easy targets for the pursuers, because they aren't even trying to defend themselves; they are just trying to get away. If you are running in panic, you don't look where you put your feet, so you trip on stuff, and fall down, and then get a spear in your guts. If you are running in panic, you don't look around to see what's happening back there because you are too terrified, so you don't zig-zag, so the spears and arrows and rocks hit you. If you are running in panic, and there is a cliff in front of you, you don't see it until you are doing the Wiley Coyote.
Okay, that's the history part, it's all in Joshua 7.
Now, am I supposed to tell you about the modern spiritual applications, or are you supposed to figure it out on your own?

Feasting on locusts and wild honey,


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Blast from the past: Carrying Baggage in War

You know how much weight an infantryman packs? A lot. There are three basic conditions for load classifications: Fighting load, for when imminent combat is expected; the Approach March load, used when they have to get somewhere and take some food along; and the Emergency Approach March load, when they have to carry everything because re-supply may be a problem. Fighting load weight: 62 pounds. Approach March  load weight: 95 pounds. Emergency Approach March load weight: 128 pounds. (For more details, read my source, The Modern Warrior's Combat Load,

Now, back in the old days (like pre 1900 for modern armies), the troops frequently supported themselves off the land, both in terms of what they ate and in terms of their pay. Rudyard Kipling wrote about it in "Loot": 'That's the thing that makes the boys get up and shoot.' Now, by the time he wrote it, it wasn't policy of the British Army to do that, but evidently the tradition lived on.
And some of the old armies had these massive trains of hangers-on, who made their living off the army, providing various (ahem) services, and some of them just functioned as a way to turn the loot into cash or jewels or something else easy to carry. That's because loot was often pots and pans and chairs and tables and bed frames and laundry and geese and cows. Pretty difficult to lug around. But if the troops DIDN'T lug it around, then somebody else was going to steal it while they were out fighting. So, getting the loot was the first task, getting it turned into something portable was the second task. Why did pirates wear ear rings? It was a handy way of carrying their loot.
And in more than one engagement, an initial victory was turned into defeat because of loot. In the Civil War, Confederate general Jubal Early's men stomped Union commander Phil Sheridan's troops into the ground at Cedar Creek (October 1864), sending the Union troops running. HOWEVER!!!! they did not pursue, they stopped to loot the camp (they were, in fairness, on starvation rations) and Sheridan rallied the Union troops, counter-attacked, and handed Early a huge defeat. Had Early's men pursued, they could have just about had their way with the fleeing Union troops; people who know warfare a lot better than i do say you always suffer more casualties in an undisciplined retreat than you do in a battle.
Which brings me to Jericho and Ai. 
Jericho was a walled city. That doesn't mean so much to us, in the time of bombers and artillery, but if you've ever seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you'll remember the scene where the knights run up against the castle and hit the walls with their swords. That's kind of what it would be like to assault a walled city. Run up on it, and get nasty things dumped on your head, or worse. 
So, leave it alone. Right? Well, not so much. Ya see, if ya leave a stronghold behind you, your enemy can ALWAYS launch an attack from there. You either have to completely cut off the city, and starve it out, which takes a long long time, or you force the walls or find a secret way in (like David did through the water tunnels) or get somebody to betray the city from you, or if you are at Troy, you build a wooden horse. Or if you are in a Monty Python movie, a wooden rabbit. Or badger. But you CAN'T, you CAN'T leave a strong point in your rear. The enemy will use it to collect their troops, who get to sleep inside and eat home cooked meals and have the blacksmith sharpen their weapons, and then when they have gathered enough guys, they come in and smack you down and dance. 
Now, Joshua had the city, because God gave it to him - and the walls came a tumblin' down - and he took care of business. Almost perfectly. See, God had said: don't take any of their stuff. Kill it, burn it, leave it. Lots of other guys have taught lessons on not being tainted with the goods of the city, and I won't go into that. I'm just thinking about...the impact of looting on a mobile army. Sure, it makes sense to us (if we are in the second grade) that we shouldn't take the idols of the city of Jericho...but why not take the sheep and goats and cows and chickens (no pigs, please, we're Jews)? fast can your mobile army move? If you are carrying the Fighting Load (remember that?), you can move pretty fast. But what if you are carrying, or even herding, the sheep and the goats and the cows and the chickens? Well, bud, you are moving at the speed of a chicken. Ever tried to herd a flock of chickens? Remember all those movies where the car chase gets interrupted because the sheep are in the road? Take the livestock, and you just transformed from a mobile army into non-mobile herders. And that's a great way to become extinct.
BUT, I'll talk more about that next time, when I talk about what happened at Ai.

Feeding on locusts and wild honey,

Friday, March 11, 2016

Provoked by Peter Grant at MGC, I do this.

Over at the Mad Genius Club today, the boyishly handsome Peter Grant throws a small kitten into a group of sedate pigeons with his column,

Should we consider crowdfunding or the “subscription model” for our books?

Although I realized I had something to say about this topic, it wasn't until I had completed the first stage that I realized I needed to make the second stage my latest Ramble.  So, click on the above link to read what Peter had to say, as well as the numerous intelligent observations which follow (mine included), and then come back and finish reading this.


As a general rule, I've been pleased with the results of the few crowd funding projects I've been involved with.  I have contributed to the program which makes available digital copies of little known and somewhat elderly works of science fiction; I have helped reestablish nearly extinct fruit trees; service members have access to reading devices loaded with great books; veterans who sustained combat injuries which limited their mobility had their homes modified; meat is being smoked, sliced, sauced, and sold; and I helped launch a new graphic novel series about black superheroes.

None of those have been funding the writing of a particular book, though.  However, I have read a book which was produced that way, and it was a perfect example of how the process can go wrong.  After the author had the money in hand, the book was poorly executed in every way; and because the author already had some money (I don't know how much), he somehow equated the support he received for his ATTEMPT with support for his COMPLETED MANUSCRIPT.  "But my book has to be good, look at all the money people gave me to write it."

No.  Those are not the same thing.  At all.

Over the years, I've heard a lot of advice about how to become a writer.   What I regard as the best piece of advice has come from writers who consistently put out best-selling books and live in mansions, as well as writers who use their book income to buy cat food.  I've heard it from enough different sources to know that this isn't advice that comes from a particular academic perspective; all of these people aren't echoing Professor Putzfrow in his famous lecture "How I Did It."

This is the best advice:

Sit down at the desk and start writing.
Don't stop.
Do it again tomorrow.

So: if this is the secret of good writing, how will crowd funding make it happen?  When I have heard writers talk about this, they say that sometimes what prevents them from writing are the day to day, physical obstacles  associated with being a human and a social animal.  Examples of this type of obstacle include making dinner, doing the taxes, cleaning out the cat box, and processing e-mail.  And, that's not forget that obstacle facing nearly every writer: the need to have a job that pays the bills.

 However, they admit, more often than not, it's a failure of mental discipline that keeps them from writing, and I'm not talking about writer's block here.  I'm referring to sitting in the chair, and staring off into space; allowing 20 minutes of research to become 3 hours of rabbit trails; gaming; Youtube; netflix; you get the point.  These are all mental obstacles to writing.

While it is true that a sudden infusion of cash can shrink or even eliminate the physical obstacles, the only thing that more money does for a time waster is give them more time to waste.

I don't want to completely walk away from the idea of crowdfunding, though. Maybe we set up a scholarship. Provide pizza twice a week for six weeks. Hook them up with a laundry service. Hire a baby-sitter. But have it be no-strings-attached, EXCEPT that there is the expectation that whatever daily task you are freed of for a bit, you don't substitute another. Nope, if we do your laundry, you write. You don't do the dishes.

I could get on board with that. What do you think? Do I have a crowd funding idea?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Four Bully Stories by Sarah Hoyt

At some point last mumble, I decided to see how my reviews matched up with the Kindle Unlimited books published by contributors to the Mad Genius Club and the assorted hangers-on.  The answer is:

Not very well.

The main reason for the discrepancy between what they have written and what I have reviewed (I think) is that Sarah recently made a lot of her work available through KU. Second reason: there were also a number of works I had read long ago through Baen, and those didn't get automatically routed into an Amazon review.  Third reason: sometimes I mumble do other mumble things. I have a LOT of work to do before I am caught up again.  I am working on it, I PROMISE you I'm working on it, but THIS weekend I am taking my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after, trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grand-mother of Woodstock, Georgia, off to the mountains for a well-deserved get-away.  And that's all I have to say about that.

I have written an Amazon review for each of these short stories (The Littlest Nightmare,The Sacrifice, Where Horse And Hero Fell, Created He Them), but the added value in this particular Ramble addresses something that was discussed in yesterday's According To Hoyt: bullying.

/begin review commercial
But before I get into that: if you want to read my reviews, click on the link in the paragraph above.  And, if you find it helpful, then click on the "helpful" button at the end of the review.  I've explained before how this ultimately benefits the author because it increases the weight of my reviews, but follow your conscience in all things.
/end review commercial

Bullying: it's something I happen to know a lot about.  My last career, lasting 16 years, was being a counselor in a middle school.  I saw bullying in every form you can imagine, and students didn't have to die in order for it to be horrifying, although two of them did.  I was gratified when our state legislature passed an anti-bullying law, but it was hamstrung by limiting the definition to threats of a physical assault, and made no provision for the restructuring of a school environment, but was strictly punitive in nature.  And it totally ignored relationship aggression, which is how bullying typically manifests with schoolgirls, as well as bullying directed toward students by teachers and administration.

I'll have some specific points to make about school age bullying at the end, but first, let me make some more or less tongue-in-cheek observations about the presence of bullying in each of the four short stories.  (I'll have to repeat some material from the Amazon review, but you still have to read them.) 

The Littlest Nightmare

Jack, a socially incompetent young man, can't get a job, even in a fast-food restaurant. A purple monster appears in his apartment, and explains that her name is Hilda, she's his personal nightmare,and she's in love with him. In a horrifying example of quid pro quo sexual harassment, Jack agrees to be her boyfriend if she will help him in his career.

The Sacrifice
The Sacrifice is a retelling of the story of Hannibal. The goddess Tanit appears to Hannibal as a youth and promises him eternal fame if he will promise to always lead Carthage against Rome.  This is a classic example of a charismatic leader who exploits his position for personal gain; thus, Hannibal is a bully, and Carthage is the victim.

Where Horse And Hero Fell

George is a computer nerd falls in love with Gwen, a beautiful red-haired witch.  George uses force to overcome resistance by his own side, threatening the lives and livelihood of political and military leaders if they fail to support him in his quest to rescue Gwen by force from her captors.

Created He Them

The end of the world as we know it is happening. Humans have no choice in their destiny; they are being tossed out of the game, despite not knowing they were in a game at all.

And now, very briefly, let me touch on three truths of school-age bullying:

One.  It's at your school, too; bullying takes place universally.  Usually, though, students don't talk about it, because they don't believe the adults will do anything about it, and they're almost always right.  MOST of the time, that's not because the adults are evil, it's because they don't know what to do.

Two.  Most bullying does not involve a violent attack.  Among schoolgirls, it almost never does.  As a general rule, social relationships are more important to schoolgirls than to school boys; therefore, they rarely take the risk of a open physical conflict.  Instead, they use a covert social network to exclude and isolate those they see as competition or enemies.

Three.  It all comes down from the top.  A building level supervisor, such as the principal or assistant principal, will determine the school climate.  If they tend to rule by intimidation and suppression of problems, teachers and students will learn those same tactics.  Bullying will become pervasive, and the evidence of it will be hidden.  This is the exception to the rule in truth number one, that most of the time adults who fail to manage the problem of bullying are not doing so because they are evil.  If the building level supervisor is a bully, then they are evil.

Well, that was pleasant, wasn't it?  Tune in again tomorrow…  for what ever happens then…

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Why We Can't Recognize Weapons

This is my first writing since a sore throat took me out of action last week. Since I use speech recognition to write,having a sore throat is rather the equivalent of having arthritis in your hands for a person who uses the keyboard.  (I know this is true, because I have arthritis in my hands as well.)

However, I could still read, even if I couldn't write the reviews, and so I did. So now, I have 10 items awaiting review. Four of them are short stories, which I will combine into one review; but that still leaves me with seven reviews to write.  And I was going to do it today, honest!  But I had to clean out my inbox first.  And as I was doing that, I saw that "According To Hoyt" had an interesting title, so I read it.  And the reviews got put on hold again.

Men – and Women — of Iron.  That's the title of the ATH post for today.  If you haven't read it yet, click on the link and go read it now; I'll wait.

Now that you've done that (unless you cheated), you know that Sarah starts with the example of disease to contrast the toughness of past generations with the college-age population today.  For her mother's generation, infant and child mortality was much higher than it is today, and that was accepted as an unfortunate part of life.  She contrasts that fortitude with a recent incident at Cal State Long Beach, where college students were being offered counseling for trauma suffered when a fellow student was discovered in possession of a pocketknife.

Confession: from this point on, I'm going to be saying some things I had not planned on saying.  Someday, I may give you a vibrant, rousing statement about the valiant efforts of our predecessors, and give you good reason as to why we must fill their empty shoes.

But today is not that day.

First of all, here's what I've gotten from the reports I have read about the incident at Cal State Long Beach.  On Thursday, February 25th, in a course titled "Race, Class And Gender,"  sociology  professor Dr. Sabrina Alimahomed-Wilson observed that a male student was visibly in possession of a small knife.  She asked him to leave the class, which he did.  She canceled the rest of the class, and the incident was reported to the university police.  Their investigation of the incident included an interview with the student and an examination of the knife.  The knife, with a blade length of less than 2 1/2 inches, was not found to be in violation of campus policy, and campus police accepted the student's statement that he was using it to clean his fingernails.  They returned the knife to him, and released him.

Social media exploded.  Every claim you can imagine, and some you hadn't even considered, was made by students who were not in the class.  I'm not going to go into them here, because they are aggravating.  If you are interested, please feel free to google.

But I have a theory about a contributing factor.

Four months ago (November 4, 2015), on another campus in the California University system, an 18 year old student went on a rampage with a knife.  After wounding his first victim in a classroom, he was driven off by a 31 year old construction worker, whom he also wounded.  He cut one more student, and stabbed a faculty member, before being shot and killed by campus police.  At autopsy, the inventory of his all-black clothing included a homemade ISIS flag, a two page manifesto documenting his plan of attack, including instructions on how to decapitate a human and multiple exhortations to worship Allah.  His name was Faisal Mohammad.

Here's the kicker: legal and campus authorities insisted that he was not a terrorist, that religion was not a factor, and that he was driven to this behavior simply because he had been ejected from a study group.

I don't dispute at all that the precipitating factor was his ejection from the study group; I also don't dispute that his actions were taken alone, not a part of a group activity.

However: in stripping away his Islamic radicalization as a prime motivating factor for his violent attack, the authorities promulgate an emotional environment in which every pocket knife becomes a threat.  That is false, that is bogus, that is a lie.  A pocketknife is never a threat; only a person can be a threat.  And when political correctness eliminates self-identification with terrorist groups as a factor to be considered, then no legitimate conclusions may be drawn.

And it becomes perfectly a reasonable to dismiss a student for cleaning his fingernails with a pocketknife.

Have we lost our minds?