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Musings

  • Apparently, “Plotting out and practicing the untimely demise of my fellow human beings” was not the answer someone was looking for when they asked me what I did in the Army.
  • The traffic around us flows in such a way that the shortest route to Boo’s school takes about twice as long as the back roads.
    • Cue the Kentucky highway department putting in a ten-minute detour along the longer route that takes me into the next county.
    • Still better than the freeway.
  • If my desk calendar is telling the truth, I have something work-related to do just about every day in August.
    • It’s gotten to the point that I set alarms so that I remember to eat lunch.
  • My commute is starting to become my favorite time of day.  It’s probably because I can roll down the windows, blast angry music, and scream at the top of my lungs until I feel better.

Review – The American Civil War

If you’ve ever wanted to learn a bit about the American Civil War, this audiobook is a good place to start.

Between 1861 and 1865, the clash of the greatest armies the Western hemisphere had ever seen turned small towns, little-known streams, and obscure meadows in the American countryside into names we will always remember. In those great battles, those streams ran red with blood – and the United States was truly born.

If you’ve ever wanted to understand the Civil War, this series of 48 startlingly evocative lectures by a leading Civil War historian can serve as both an ideal single course or a solid starting point for further exploration – a richly detailed examination of how this great conflict affected every person in America. For you’ll gain not only a deep knowledge of what happened, but new insights into why.

You’ll learn how both sides’ armies were recruited, equipped, and trained, and about the hard lot of those they took prisoner. You’ll hear how soldiers on each of those sides dealt with the rigors of camp life, campaigns, and the terror of combat. And you’ll understand how slaves and their falling masters responded to the advancing war, as well as the desperate price paid by the families so many left behind.

Though this series of lectures goes far beyond a simple examination of battles and generals, it also offers detailed analyses of the strategic and tactical dimensions of the Civil War’s most important campaigns. At the same time, it never forgets that the conflict involved far more than pins on a map – and indeed claimed a greater cost in human lives than all other American wars combined.

Professor Gary Gallagher does an excellent job at giving a 10,000 foot survey of the Civil War.  He starts with the stresses on the nation that brought about the war, the events that led up to separation and war, the conduct of the campaigns and battles, and ends up with a brief discussion of the impact the war had on the United States for the fifty years or so after its conclusion.  Intermixed with all of this, he discusses the societies of the North and South, their comparative strengths and weaknesses, and the war’s impact on groups such as women, immigrants, and African-Americans.

While the political and cultural aspects of the war are still hotly debated, Professor Gallagher does an excellent job at giving an even-handed narrative.  Neither side was as heroic and virtuous as some would have us believe, but neither were they complete villains.

This is a great survey course that should direct you to more in-depth discussions of the various subjects that the Civil War entails.  Unfortunately, if Professor Gallagher dove as deeply as I would have liked in certain places, his course would have stretched for months instead of days.  Take The American Civil War as a good introduction for those who are just learning and a good refresher for those more familiar with the subject.

Review – Tide of Battle

Michael Z. Williamson’s latest collection of short stories, essays, and general fun, Tide of Battle,  is as fun and thought provoking as we’ve come to expect from his work.

Collected short fiction from multiple bestseller Michael Z. Williamson. After a brutal car crash, a disabled young man beats all odds to pursue his dream of crewing the first starship. Outnumbered and outgunned, a Freehold warship must use guile, expert maneuvering and sheer courage to survive a pursuing UN fleet. Meanwhile, other Freeholders resort to terrifying psyops to destroy their invaders’ morale. A family learns that their patriarch isn’t as crazy as they thought when a zombie uprising actually happens. A young girl must use her knowledge of elementals and spirit beings to protect a king who is unaware of the threats against him. In an alternate Bronze Age, the descendants of dinosaurs fight with sentient felinoids for territory and survival. Humans reduced to cowering in caves find a most unlikely weapon against their alien invaders.

With cutting satire on classic poetry and modern movies, a no-holds-barred lambast of several beloved firearms and their fan clubs, Williamson concludes with more of his Inappropriate Cocktail recipes, frequently both delicious and outrageously snarky, commemorating celebrities, events and cultural memes.

Tide of Battle comes in two parts. The first part contains stories written or co-written by Williamson.  My favorite was “The Digital Kid”, but if you’re a fan of his Freehold world, then you’ll like “Starhome”, “Hate in the Darkness”, and “Soft Casualty”.  The rest are a good collection of fiction written in other worlds and dealing with a myriad of situations.

In the book’s second part, Williamson proves, once again, that sacred cows make the best hamburgers.  He takes on gun people (both pro and anti), poetry, literature, and movies in a way that will both make you think and laugh.  Most interesting, to me, was his discussion on research for his book “A Long Time Until Now”. He finishes up with his signature cocktail recipes, which contain humor as dark and rich as good rum.

I enjoyed every word in Tide of Battle, and with the wide scope of the stories it contains, I’m pretty sure you’ll find something in it that you’ll enjoy, too.

Review – To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity

Recently, I finally finished a short story collection that deals with examples of what it means to be a man:  To Be Men:  Stories Celebrating Masculinity.

Tired of stories about men as bumbling idiots? Of fathers as incompetents? Of masculinity as “toxic”?
Tired of misandry?
Ready for some real masculine role models?
Stories about heroes and men who do the right thing? Stories about real men? The kind that provide for their families, love their wives and children, and make sacrifices. And save the world.
A collection of seventeen stories and two essays, To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity pays homage to men and masculinity.
Fun. Action-packed. Thought-provoking. Whatever your tastes, you will find enjoyment in these pages.
Each story embraces, in its own way, virtus—the concept of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth.
The sentient Colt 1911 destined for the smelter.
A courageous werewolf who embodies virtus no matter his form.
The wizard raising a family in the 21st century.
Sherlock Holmes’ newfound respect for women.
A future untamed frontier where “women and children first” proves itself a timeless maxim.
The hero who identifies as a M1A2 Abrams tank.
A Vietnam War sailor defending his gay crew mate, because when bullets are flying, only what you do matters.
The police chief in a noir-style world where Fae, dragons, and humans live, love, and break the law.
These stories will delight and entertain you.

To Be Men brings together some excellent writers to give us rich, well-told stories that describe the many facets of what it means to be a man in the classic sense.  My favorites were”Street Fox” by C. J. Brightley, “Compassion” by Jon Del Arroz, and “Man Made Hell” by Julie Frost.

This collection has modern fiction, science fiction, urban fantasy, and even a nod to Arthur Conan Doyle.  In other words, it’s a good bet that you’ll find something in there that you’ll like.

The authors do an excellent job of showing how their characters are classically masculine, meaning that they exhibit bravery, honor, trust, and compassion, without them becoming brutes.  Where they interact with other people, especially women, they show the respect that they wish to receive.

To Be Men is a book that I plan on giving to my son when he gets a bit older so he can learn from the stories.  It’s also a book I hope my daughter reads so that she can know what she should expect from the men in her life.

Musings

  • It would appear that sleep deprivation and over-scheduling is how Irish Woman and I live now.
  • The bad news is that I didn’t win the Mustang raffle at the church picnic.
    • The good news is that I won’t have to make the choice of finally owning a Mustang in my late forties or taking the cash.
  • Boo did some good works by handing out ice cream to the folks who were eating chicken dinners at the picnic.  More than a few folks noticed that several young ladies his age were clustered around the ice cream cooler during his tenure.
    • Irish Woman was unavailable for comment.
  • Irish Woman has relearned that Guinness makes me goofy.
  • I’m not going to say that the weather during the drive home on Friday evening was rough.  I’m just going to say that I’ve never had my truck powerwashed so thoroughly before and leave it at that.
  • We’ve reached that sweet, sweet part of the summer where we’re ordering school uniforms and taking inventory on our pencils and notebooks.
  • I’d like to thank LawDog for the fact that my youngest son can now quote the Baghavad Ghita and Melville, as well as call an ambulance “the big white taxi”.

Review – The Pride of the Damned

The third and final book in Peter Grant’s Cochrane’s Company trilogy, The Pride of the Damned, is out.  If you enjoyed the first two books in the series, you’ll love the story’s climax:

The shadow war started as a simple contract to defend a system against asteroid thieves. The harder Andrew Cochrane and Hawkwood Security fought, the worse things became. Now they find themselves embroiled in an interstellar war with an entire mafia!

Worse yet, the proceedings are so profitable – not to mention bloody – that they’ve attracted the attention of some of the worst criminal organizations in the galaxy. If Hawkwood is to survive, it’ll need all the wits, cunning and ingenuity it can muster – and the unwavering courage and dedication of its people.

The galaxy’s not big enough for both sides. One or the other will go to the wall.

The universe is well and truly built and the characters are well developed by the time this book begins, so the story moves quickly to the events leading up to its finale.  The Pride of the Damned has a lot of space opera in it, with a touch of thriller and spy novel thrown in for flavor.

The author goes into good detail of how Cochrane continues to build his fleet and the family of friends and colleagues he’s put together.  The space battle scenes are well thought out and keep the reader turning the page.  The characters are believable and the way that Grant makes them move within the story is the mark of a master storyteller.

This is not a juvenile by any means, but I’d be comfortable suggesting this series to anyone who enjoys a carefully laid out arc that travels quite nicely across three books.  If you’re looking for something to binge read during the dog days of summer, Cochrane’s Company is it.

The Stones of Silence – Sets up the story and introduces us to most of the characters

An Airless Storm – Develops the characters and pits Cochrane and his crew against an intractable foe

The Pride of the Damned – Brings everything together to a thrilling conclusion.

That Day

I won’t go into details, but today was not a good day.  It was the kind of day where the little voice in my head told me “I’m glad that’s over” when I started getting ready for bed.  Ever have one of those days?

But it wasn’t That Day.

We all have That Day.  It’s the day when we look back and wonder how we got through it.  It might have been stressful, or even deadly.  It’s the day that lays opposite The Best Day in our spectrum of experience.  All other days are measured against those two days.

That Day is the one that wakes you up in the middle of the night.  It’s the one that drags you back to relive it when you see or smell or hear something that reminds you of That Day.  It’s the one that every parent wants to shield their child from.

Everybody I know has had That Day, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not a part of the human experience.  Perhaps the reason that folks who get freaked out over relatively minor stuff get on my nerves so much is that to them That Day was something that a lot of us just call ‘Tuesday’.

Anyway, here’s hoping that That Day is behind all of you.

At least today wasn’t That Day.

100 Years On – End of the Romanovs

On the night of 16 to 17 July, 1918, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, who had abdicated his throne following the first Russian revolution in 1917, was executed by Communist forces in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg. Additionally, his wife, children, and several servants were also shot, clubbed, and stabbed to death by their Communist guards.  Their bodies were looted, stripped, disfigured, and buried in a concealed grave.

Since his abdication, Romanov and his family had been kept in increasingly harsh and isolated conditions.  In the end, their world had shrunk to several rooms and a small courtyard.  Under constant guard, they were even forbidden to speak with their guards or look out the window.

Communist Red Army leaders feared that the Romanovs would be a rallying point for opposing White Forces in the burgeoning Russian Civil War.  At the time of the execution, White elements were drawing near to Ekaterinburg, and the Communists moved to prevent the Tsar’s liberation.

After consulting with authorities in Moscow, including Lenin and Dzerzhinsky, the local Communist leader replaced the guards surrounding the Romanovs with men who swore to kill the tsar, if ordered.   A site outside the city was carefully prepared so that the family’s remains could be hidden.

The Romanovs were taken to small cellar room, were informed of the decision to execute them, and killed.  After the family was murdered, their bodies were burned and buried.  At first, the Communists announced only that Nicholas was dead, leaving many to hope that the rest of his family, including his son, had survived.  Soviet leaders suppressed any discussion of the Romanovs for decades.  It was not until the 1970’s that their bodies were discovered, and not until afte the turn of the next century that they were given a decent burial.

The death of Nicholas and his heirs brought the end of a 300 year dynasty.  It was only one of the first atrocities committed by the Soviets, but it is a stain on their history that will live forever.

100 Years On – Second Marne

On July 15, 1918, the German Army in France began its final offensive of the war.  In two major pushes against British, American, and French forces, the Germans were able to establish a bridgehead across the Marne, but met stiff resistance by Allied defenders.

Combined Allied action, including the use of tanks, bombers, and several fresh American divisions, stopped the German offense.  Both sides had learned lessons in the years of fighting.  French defenses in the first hours of the attack were arrayed so that their soldiers were not open to German bombardment in the front lines.  In the counterattack, the Allies were able to coordinate their plans and movements in a concerted effort to throw the Germans back.

By early August, the Germans were pushed back across the Marne and back to their original positions.  This action was followed by the final Allied offensives of the war, which saw the Germans begin to slowly lose the territory they had held since 1914.

Travel Rumblings

  • When we all get together to take a trip on the big silver sky taxi, we, by definition, all have somewhere to be.
    • Taking fifteen minutes to find your seat, stow your things, sit down, make friends with the folks around you, strap in, unstrap in, retrieve your electronic thingie, binkie, and blankie, and then strap back in, is a black-letter law justification for keelhauling.
  • The row and seat numbers are in an easily deduced pattern.  Also, the airline has gone to the trouble and expense to put up little signs to help out those who never passed that part of kindergarten.  Please, for the sake of our sanity and your own safety, learn to use them.
  • Sitting/laying down in the main walkway of a gate seating area in order to do stretching/yoga/walrus-in-rut impersonations for half an hour may or may not help your bad back.  It will definitely make me wish your bones would start to spontaneously snap into small, easily digested pieces.
  • If you are giving your pre-teen children a sugary coffee drink five minutes before getting on a small aircraft, I hope that, someday, your children put you into a substandard nursing home built on an abandoned graveyard.
    • Now, I may not be the best parent on Earth, Lord knows.  But I’m pretty sure that letting little Susie and Bobby watch “The Purge” during a flight might not be the best decision you could have made.
  • If the first-class passengers aren’t routinely asked to remove their shoes, belt, electronics, and dignity when going through airport screening, then there’s probably no good reason for everyone else to do it.
  • Showing up to your job serving coffee to folks in an airport on a Sunday morning when you either dropped acid right before work or you’re still coming down from the night before is not cool.
    • Seriously, her pupils were the same shape, size, and color as a shot of espresso.
    • She was, of course, pleasant.  Most stoned folks are.  She just wasn’t very efficient.
    • It took her five minutes to take my order for a coffee, large, one each, then about another three to find the cup, then find the coffee, then fill the cup, then remember to turn around and hand it to me.  I had to remind her to swipe my credit card before handing it back to me.
  • If it takes two flight attendants, a quarter pound of bacon grease, a come-along, and rhythmic drumming by the co-pilot to get your My Little Pony carry-on into the overhead bin, then maybe you should have let your mommy pack for you.
  • Riding your motorcycles four abreast, thereby taking up both lanes of traffic, does not make you rebels without a cause.  It makes you a bunch of douchebags.
  • I’m guilty of forgetting that Nissan put their gas tanks on the wrong side of the car, thereby causing me to have to pull out of a fueling area in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and turn around at 1:30 AM on a Sunday night.
    • Pointing this out and laughing at me does not help the situation.
    • From the look on your wife’s face, she thought you were an asshole, too.
  • There are fewer things I want to hear after getting home from a long trip than hearing Irish Woman ask “Honey, do you know where my camera is?”
    • In related news, the hotel, airline, and rental car company all had “I lost my stuff” links on their websites.
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