Greetings! Welcome to the Chateau!

Within its corridors you will find insight into the books I have written, the books I am writing and the books I am thinking about writing.

It is also a place where I can offer insights into my favorite authors and - in the case of my game Conqueror: Fields of Victory - I can explain my rules and offer new variants.

Scroll down or check the sidebar for my latest posts.


Walls of Men: A Military History of China 2500 B.C. to A.D. 2020

Long Live Death: The Keys to Victory in the Spanish Civil War


Three Weeks with the Coasties: A Tale of Disaster and also an Oil Spill

Battle Officer Wolf

Scorpion's Pass

The Vampires of Michigan

The Man of Destiny Series:

A Man of Destiny

Rise of the Alliance

Fall of the Commonwealth

The Imperial Rebellion


Conqueror: Fields of Victory, Revised Edition

Other Writings features


No news is good news

The other day I decided to visit what had formerly been a mainstay of my daily web surfing.  I scrolled through the headlines, scanned the posts and realized that even though I had been away for three months, nothing substantive had changed.

Oh, the names were a little difference, but mostly it was full of outrage about this thing or that, and in the comment section the same voices said the same old things. 

I think a lot of people are stuck in that cycle of being perpetually angry or worried.  As far as I can tell, breaking away from that hasn't left me any less informed on practical matters, but it has freed up a huge amount of time and energy for more productive (and enjoyable) activities.

Another problem with news immersion is that it blinds us to the importance of the spirit world.  As Trotsky never said: "you may not be interested in spirits, but spirits are interested in you!"

One of the ways that the secular materialist worldview has taken over society is that it has become the only "respectable" way to see things.  All analysis, all reporting, all documentation is doing using that lens.  Yet there is quite clearly a spiritual side to what is going on today.  How else to explain the frantically anti-Christian fervor sweeping the popular culture?  Even within the Catholic Church we find clergy and even archbishops demanding fundamental changes to Church teachings to facilitate sexual license and depravity.

In almost any other epoch, such outbursts would be unimaginable, and yet here we are.

Sometimes, the best move in a game is simply not to play.  Over the last few years I have intermittently tried to make sense of things using the secular materialist worldview I developed over decades.  For a long time, it was adequate and indeed predictive.  That is no longer the case.  My predictive record using it is abysmal.

So why use a frame of analysis that makes one anxious, angry and depressed if it's not even accurate?

I think for a lot of people, it's just a habit, but it is one worth breaking.


St. Patrick, pray for us

A year ago I did a post on how the snakes have come back to Ireland.

By curious coincidence, First Things has an article with almost exactly the same title on the same topic.

The secularization of St. Patrick's feast day is kind of fascinating.  I'm seeing all sorts of promotions for corned beef and cabbage, but of course it is a Friday in Lent, which means that meat is forbidden.  Yes, there are some jurisdictions where dispensations have been made, but it's plain that the concept of the day is now getting drunk and eating bland food.

This is not by any means unique.  Christmas is famously secular these days, mostly pagan myths about a fat old man and flying reindeer.  Still the fall of Ireland is sad to behold.

England has also embraced the same empty, soulless materialism that fascinated the United States.  The allure is powerful.  Who doesn't want to cast aside the restrictive morals of the past to indulge in every form of sin and gratification?  It is a tale as old as Sodom and Gomorrah.

On the positive side, I think we are rapidly reaching the limits of what decadence can even permit.  This was one of the themes of The Vampires of Michigan - at a certain point, you simply can't debauch yourself any more.  There are finite ways of gratifying lust, each carrying progressively greater risk and damage.  Just as with drugs, there is a law of diminishing returns, where each new transgression brings less of a high.

We see this with music and entertainment - stuff that was shocking in my youth is boring today.  Madonna masturbating with a cross in the late 80s is as distant to us as the Elvis Presley swinging his hips was back then.

J.R.R. Tolkien understood this, that the ultimate end of evil must be nihilism.  Evil is all about pulling things down, whether they be moral boundaries or degrading the human spirit.  When at last all depravity has been experienced, there is nothing left but the void.

This is why I am hopeful, because darkness ultimately cannot triumph.  Clearly it is my task to keep the lamp burning through the night until the dawn inevitably comes.  St. Patrick showed us how it was done and we will have to do it again.

Unreliable sources

The research for writing Long Live Death was quite challenging.  I quickly learned that there was lots of information on the Spanish Civil War, but much of it was false.  It is one thing to be biased, and portray various actions in the most negative way possible, but it another thing entirely to simply state things that are not true.

For example, Hugh Thomas has a clear bias in favor of the Republic, but his information is meticulously documented and generally reliable (though I did catch a couple of errors in his very complicated narrative).

Antony Beevor, on the other hand, is a total hack.  If he told me the sun was shining I would assume it wasn't until proven otherwise.  His bigotry and deception by omission renders everything else has written suspect.

The Romans recognized this the logic of this, enshrining the phrase: falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus (false in one thing, false in everything) in the Western legal tradition. 

I'm sad to say that when working on Walls of Men, this same principle destroyed my trust in a web site I had visited and enjoyed for years:

I'm not entirely sure of who posts there now, but back in the day it was product of the longstanding collaboration of Jim Dunnigan and Austin Bay, two old-school wargamers who had collaborated in the best-selling A Quick and Dirty Guide to War.

During the Global War on Terror, the site had been very useful in providing updates on Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots typically ignored by the mainstream media.  However, over time I noticed that the site was often irrationally optimistic about American operations. 

To be fair, it was possible that their sources were simply lying to them.  After all, we know that a great deal of internal communication within the US military was fabricated to justify ongoing operations and conceal the magnitude of failure from the American public.

However, when I began to dig into the inner workings of the Chinese military, the errors were too glaring to ignore.  The breaking point for me was a post which described the Peoples' Liberation Army as being "all-volunteer" since the 1980s.  This is absolutely not true.  (I can't find the specific post because the site's organization is abysmal.)

Multiple published sources (which I used in my book) confirm this, and reputable web sites also state that conscription still happens, though no one is sure exactly what percentage of the PLA is recruited using it.  Either way, it's just plain wrong, and that kind of error casts doubt over everything on the site.  I now have to wonder how much else they go wrong, and while there may be some value to determining whether it was due to bias or ignorance, the inescapable fact is that they simply cannot be trusted.




The god of the two-car garage

My recent perusal of Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels brings out another critique of post-war America, which is the erosion of religion in public life.

Today much of this blame falls on the Baby Boomers, but Thompson himself was born in 1937, and I think much of the loss of faith can be blamed on the unprecedented prosperity in America following World War II.

A general historical principle is that affluence and prosperity breed decadence and depravity.  Being afflicted by the mortal sin of pride, humans naturally turn from the divine and attribute their success to their own cleverness and intellect.  Only fools still follow the old ways, which limit both human imagination and the scope of available pleasure.

The Old Testament is chock full of examples, and records of other peoples in different cultures confirm the same tendency.  Contemporary accounts of prosperous reigns almost always include a lamentation that the gods and their morals are being neglected.

It this was true of the US, but with two key additions.  The first was the sheer scale of wealth, which gave common people a quality of life beyond the reach of the super-rich as recently as a half-century ago.  While the Robber Barons of the gilded age might have had a luxurious estate and gold utensils, they didn't have x-rays, antibiotics or radios.  To evade the heat, they had to retreat to an estate on the lake or in the foothills, but by the 60s and 70s, air condition was something middle class people had.

The second was the pervasive influence of the Puritan founding.  Though their religious practice is all but forgotten, their beliefs regarding individual success and failure endure.  Put simply, people who are doing well are seen as morally superior to those who have failed.  Whereas this was once seen as a sign that they were among God's Elect, it has increasingly been folded into the secular concept of the "meritocracy," the notion that the best and brightest should be accorded more prestige and therefore power.

This no doubt fueled Thompson's hatred of the middle class, since he keenly felt the stigma of not achieving conventional measures of success.

He also detested what he considered their primitive and dull-witted adherence to the old moral codes.  His writing (and that of his contemporaries) generally sneers at organized religions.  In this telling, religious people are either hypocrites (and often running a racket) or simply too stupid to sin. 

Thompson himself is something of an aesthete - sampling drugs like rare vintages of wine.  It's interesting that he regarded the Kentucky Derby as "decadent and depraved" but felt much more at home among the Hell's Angels or various hippie communes.

The problem with society wasn't immorality, but morality itself.  If people would just back off, stop judging and enjoy life, everything would work out fine.   It was the stuffed shirts who ruined everything.  This is the ethos of Caddyshack.

That's all when and good when one is young and carefree, but it ultimately doesn't satisfy the soul.  The significance of The Big Chill was that it was the first warning to the Boomers that the party would eventually end.

At that point, it was the rubes who went to church who were having the last laugh while the materialists frantically try various cosmetic and health procedures to preserve their youth.

I've written about Carly Simon's semi-conversion, but John Voight's change is even more profound and striking.  In the 1970, he was making edgy fare like Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home, but he's now offering public prayers for the salvation of the nation. 

There's a hint of Evelyn Waugh about that, and one of the great might-have-beens is if Thompson had a similar conversion.  Alas, he shut himself completely off from God.  Even his funeral was a mockery of religious observance.

Ultimately, that's where materialism leads.  At some point the drugs no longer produce the same highs, one's possessions seem old and tawdry and the end of football season looms (Thompson's suicide note actually cited this as part of his depression).  At that point, the god of the two-car garage falls silent.




My interview at

Over the last couple of weeks I've been talking things over with Chris Braly of and the contents of that interview are now available on the site.

Long-time readers of my blog will find few surprises, but it was nice to see the management step out side the normal comic/geek culture box and examine how geopolitics can shape American culture.

I'm pretty sure the Venn diagram of people interested in both Chinese military history and comic books has a fairly shallow overlap, but there is a connection.

As I note in the interview, Hollywood has largely abandoned middle America and has turned instead to the vast Chinese market for money.  This has allowed them make a fortune selling vapid super-hero movies, but the drive to put "woke" themes in everything is something the Chinese have proven far more resistant to than Hollywood expected.  This leaves the big studios (particularly Disney) in a place where their biggest market and the home market both hate their products.  Hence the layoffs.   Anyhow, read the whole thing.

Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels: a saga full of foreboding

Over the weekend I picked up a used copy of Hunter S. Thompson's first book, Hell's Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.

I admired Thompson greatly as a teenager, and discovered him when my mother handed me a copy of The Great Shark Hunt, a collection of his early articles.  He was exactly the kind of writer who would appeal to a teenager - alienated, profane, cynical and very witty.

Indeed, I thought he was hilarious and - like countless other boys of a certain time and place - I sought to emulate his "gonzo journalism" in the school paper.

Years passed and moved on to other interests and he faded from public view.  I stumbled upon him when I was in my 20s and he was writing an online column for Sports Illustrated.  My joy at rediscovering him was short-lived, though.  It was immediately obvious that he was recycling the same material and doing the same schtick, exactly like a Borscht Belt comedian he would have lampooned 30 years previously.

He died by his own hand, a deeply unhappy man.  Reading through Hell's Angels, that unhappiness was already visible.

Thompson clearly intended the book to be an indictment on what he considered the morally bankrupt landscape of post-war America.  In his telling, the Hell's Angels were simply a manifestation of the misfit men who could not be satisfied with a day job, a wife, two kids and a mortgage in the suburb.  It is a standard elitist complaint, and the book documents an attempt by the Berkeley intelligentsia to coopt the Angels as their militant wing.

But both New Left and Thompson failed to understand that there is a certain satisfaction to working hard and providing for one's family.  The United States of that era was unique only in the ease and luxury that such labors could bring.  The fact that Thompson was personally incapable of doing it left him angry and often depressed. 

Over the years since I first read him, I've learned an essential truth:  happy people don't binge on drugs or alcohol.  What struck me as bold, fearless and iconoclastic I now recognize as a sign that he was already aware that something within him was broken.  Thus, his account of the Hell's Angels veers between justifying their actions and deriding them as smelly violent rapist drunks. 

By the end of the book it is clear that Thompson both admires and hates them, just as he admires and hates himself.  He's got a pretty good gig as a writer, and this book will be his breakthrough work, catapulting him to fame and fortune.

But at the same time, he hates who he is, and he deeply envies the bikers who have the guts to throw away any pretense of respectability and live the outlaw lifestyle.  Indeed, he craved their acceptance and his savage beating at their hands broke his heart.

The book offers a cockeyed portrait of California in the mid-60s, and is chock full of lurid fantasies and crude caricatures of police officers and average citizens just trying to get by.  A recurring theme in Thompson's writing - which never went away - was that 'normal' people were simply too stupid to be like him.  They were also depraved in a dull-witted way, incapable of grasping his cultured, erudite and sophisticated understanding of the world.  Late the book he derides the World War II generation as simpletons who fought for "Mom, The American Way and Apple Butter" and then got stupid watching the television. 

That's a pretty hot take for a guy who washed out of the peacetime Air Force.

Speaking of foreshadowing, Hell's Angels includes passages where Thompson talks of his own escapades of shooting out the windows of his apartment using a .44 magnum and a shotgun.  Throughout his later work, Thompson was obsessed with firearms, but only in the most careless and buffoonish way.

There is (or was) a youtube video of him firing at his neighbor in Colorado using a Luger, which not only showcase his utter unsuitability to own a firearm, but also his terrible maintenance of the Luger, which jammed.  Thompson was a caricature of a gun nut, not a serious shooter.  He clearly took the attitude that if he was this grotesquely unsafe, just imagine what the yokels dumber than him must be like!

Various sections of Hell's Angels begin with a quotation that highlights the narrative.  At the time, I'm sure people assumed a reporter would never fudge the truth, but in our jaded age, I can't help but note how many of them are not only perfect for what follows, but also unattributed.   How convenient that an anonymous cop says just what he needs them to say to make his point.

That's the central problem with both this book and his subsequent work.  He's a journalist but by his own admission is both drugged out of his mind and happy to lie his way out of (or into) trouble.

Thompson would go on to write various books featuring "fear and loathing," and I think that encapsulates his work and his life.  He had an abundance of both.


Reflections on Remington Steele season one

In a rare departure from my normal practice, I  am actually streaming a show rather than owning it on physical media.

This is because my previous 80s TV exploration was not very satisfactory.  While The Equalizer had its good points, it didn't lend itself to binge viewing and I doubt I will get through the whole thing any time soon.

That's why there is a place for streaming, especially if it incurs no additional cost.  That's how I am watching Remington Steele.  This is yet another 80s production I was too young to watch (it aired at 10) or understand (most of the references would have been lost on me).

For those who don't know, the premise is that Laura Holt, a young, beautiful and ambitious private detective (played by the delightful Stephanie Zimbalist) decides to set up her own agency under her own name.  As the intro credits explain, it turns out that an agency with a female's name is considered too feminine, so she invents a man - Remington Steele - who will be the titular head of her new enterprise.  There is of course no such man, and the pilot episode centers around how she and the other employees have conspired to make him invisible but ever-present.  "Mr. Steele never involves himself in cases," is their boilerplate excuse.

In the course of that episode, a mysterious debonair thief enters the scene and cleverly assumes the identity of Remington Steele.  This was Pierce Brosnan's big break and he's remarkably good.

The focus of the series for its first few episodes is trying to determine "Mr. Steele's" true identity, but by mid-season , there are cases to solve and so the focus shifts to how Steele helps or hinders these. 

Because Steele is something of a con man and international rake of mystery, this allows Brosnan to assume different roles, further exploiting his dramatic skill.  The writing is generally excellent, and in addition to clever wordplay regarding romance, one of the running gags is that Steele is the ultimate detective movie buff, and his "investigative technique" is chiefly trying to find which movie he's a part of at any given time.

Not only is this satisfying for film nerds, it's a clever way of poking fun at the genre, because by the early/mid-80s, just about every detective plot had been used at least once.

And that gets us to one of the weaknesses of the detective format, which is the lack of an overarching plot.  This became apparently late in the first season of Remington Steele, because with Brosnan's character now contributing to the agency, the initial dynamic of cast had changed.

At the start of the pilot episode, the core cast included Zimbalist, James Read as her co-investigator Murphy Michaels, and receptionist Bernice Fox (Janet DeMay).   Brosnan's addition therefore crowded out the other two.  For a brief time Fox (invariably called "Miss Wolf" by Steele) was a rival for his affections, but this faded as his relationship with Holt heated up.  Similarly Read's character went from being loyal, competent and somewhat envious to a spiteful try-hard, and what we would call today a "beta orbiter." 

For an actor as talented as Read, this was an unacceptable role and I'm sure he was afraid of becoming typecast, so he departed the show.  This was probably the right decision because it opened the way for him play George Hazard in all three "seasons" of North and SouthThis was his best and most famous role and also introduced him to his second (and current) wife, Wendy Kilbourne.

I should note that the Reads (she took his name) are remarkable not only in the longevity of their marriage, but their low profile.  Read works intermittently, chiefly doing guest spots.  Presumably this is because they both made a bundle doing North and South and Mrs. Read is now a practicing attorney.

The second (and most successful season in terms of ratings) has just started and Doris Roberts has been added to the cast as receptionist Mildred Krebs.  Unlike her predecessors, she has no knowledge of Remington Steele's background and simply takes him at face value.

Thus we have a core cast of the two investigators and their loyal clerical assistant - a dynamic that will be repeated in Moonlighting, which is my next show on tap.

In addition to the exceptional writing, there show has considerable romantic tension between the two leads, a tension heightened by their clashing roles.  It is hard to imagine something like this being done today, but the 80s was still capable of having a push-pull romance where a woman in charge found herself at risk of being subordinated by a strong man she was passionately attracted to.

Another nice element is the music.  The show features a theme by Henry Mancini and then incidental music by Richard Lewis Warren.  When Warren isn't reprising Mancini's theme, he's using a similar style of music, a throwback to 1960s smooth jazz and vintage detective movies.

As is often the case, this is something of a rough draft for a future Bleeding Fool column, and there I'll explore that dynamic more fully.


To fiction or nonfiction, that is the question

It's only a week since Walls of Men went live, but already my mind is turning to the next writing project.  This is because writing is what I do to unwind, and without it I get really bored.  I'm trying to fill the empty hours with chores and watching vintage TV and movies, but that's only a stopgap.

Sooner or later, I'll take on a new project.

I'm thinking it will be fiction.  Long Live Death was actually very easy to write (took 6 weeks or so) and while post-publication corrections were a headache, they were also a function of my desire to see it in print ASAP because of its applicability to the political situation.

Walls of Men, on the other hand, was really complicated and stressful.  Add in the fact that both books didn't really provide the escape from reality that fiction writing does.

On the plus side, non-fiction doesn't take the same creative energy - you set your thesis, do research and write what you find.  No dead-end plots or unconvincing characters.  You have to describe a world rather than create one.

Inspiration is also important.  This is why have never written a "fantasy" book in the style of J.R.R. Tolkien - I don't know what I would say that needs saying.  I've got at least half a dozen story ideas in the genre, but none rise above the level of Dungeons and Dragons-grade fan fiction.

I'm sure in time, this will work itself out and in the meantime I'll see what I can draw from my viewing.

The sounds of spring

It's been a topsy-turvy winter here in Michigan, veering between extreme cold and unseasonable warmth.

As a result, the "quiet of winter" seems to have come to a premature end.  For those who don't live in such climates, winter is indeed a time of diminished noise.  Partly this is function of the snow on the ground, which acts as a giant muffler, muting everything but the wind.

But the other part comes from the cessation 0f animal activity, particularly birds.  Going out over the past couple of days I've heard the first soloists tuning up for what will soon become a mighty orchestra of chirping.  As spring deepens, other critters will join in, particularly insects and (locally) frogs.

For now, the sounds are few.  There is still scattered snow on the ground, the great flocks have get to gather.  However, the calls of their pioneers right clear in the growing morning light.  Spring is coming.

Castle Keep: an awful 1960s WW II movie

I've written at length how DVD compilations can be a very cost-effective way to pick up great films at bargain prices.  However, sometimes the compilation has a fair amount of padding.

Or junk.  Like in this case.

The fact of the matter is that when you see some of these disks and they boast of having obscure films with big names you recognize, it is highly likely that those films stink.  Yes, it is possible that a film featuring Burt Lancaster and Peter Falk would be a hidden gem, but it's more likely that there is a reason it was buried for a half-century.

Over the years I'm learning that Bruce Dern is pretty much box office poison.  I can't think of a single film with Bruce Dern in it that I enjoyed.  He's just obnoxious.  He is in Castle Keep.

The premise of the movie isn't that terrible - a squad of troops finds itself holding a forlorn outpost during the Battle of the Bulge.  That's about the only thing in Castle Keep that works.

The squad in question is commanded by Burt Lancaster, who sports an eyepatch for some reason.  He's leading an odd collection of officers and enlisted men to do something.  It's not clear why they're wandering around the Ardennes in the late fall of 1944, and when they stumble upon a pristine tourist-grade castle, it's supposed to be some sort of metaphor (I think) for escaping the grimy horrors of war.

The film is from 1969, so it also has to be racy.  Thus Lancaster immediately seduces and has sex with the castle owner's young, nubile wife.  Note that there is no seduction, no character development, they're just in the sack because reasons.  Believe it or not, things get even dumber.

You can't really pick apart the plot because what there is makes no sense.  I think Lancaster is supposed to be a visionary who understands that the Germans will attack and the castle holds a key crossroads that must be defended at all costs.

The problem is that the castle isn't on a crossroads.  In fact, I can't find any reason at all for it to be defended.  When the Germans strike, the roads through the village near the castle are packed with fleeing US troops, but I can't find any reason why the castle - isolated, tranquil, sedate - has any military significance.  Indeed, at one point Lancaster tries to get fleeing troops to rally towards the castle - proving it is out of line of march.  It doesn't work out.

The preponderant impressions I have of this cinematic disaster is that it is a mish-mash of WW II revisionism (i.e. "they weren't all heroes") along with some weird anti-war themes.  Falk's character, for example, is the senior NCO, but upon reaching town he deserts to return to his civilian occupation of being a baker, conveniently finding a willing baker's wife and son willing to adopt him.

There's also a subplot involving the local house of ill repute, which - given the remote location - should not have a bunch of super-models and sophisticated light displays.  The list goes on.

Some of the revisionism of the 60s and 70s produced great films - I'm thinking of The Dirty Dozen and Kelly's Heroes.  I think most failed and were forgotten.

Like Castle Keep should have been.