Monday, September 28, 2020

How I End Up With Varied Interests And Many Books

 Sometimes I think people wonder how it is I end up collecting so many interests (and indirectly, so many books).  A recent example might give a hint of my dilemma.

At Chason du Depart, OldAFSarge has been writing a very gripping series on D-Day and the Allied invasion of Europe.  (Really.  He is an excellent writer.  You should go over there and catch up on the latest entry.  I can wait....Done?  Great. We will carry on.).  Reading his series renewed a very old interest I had in World War II - 40 years ago or more.  

As I was thinking about this, suddenly I remembered that I saw (in my local used book store) a book by Heinz Guderian called Achtung - Panzer, which is a discussion of the development of the tank as a weapon of war and the proposed use of it in war (Guderian was the architect of the invasion of France in 1940).  So I decide I need to read that (review here). 

Reading this, I am suddenly reminded of another book I have on Erwin Rommel and his career:  Rommel:  Leadership Lessons from The Desert Fox.  It has been a while since I read this, so I pick this up again (worth your time, if so inclined).

But wait!  Both Guderian and Rommel have addition works:  Panzer Leader by Guderian and Infantry Attacks by Rommel. So both of these are now added to the used book list, to be ordered and read at a future date.

So I am sure you can appreciate my sad situation:  from a set of blog entries, I have become compelled to purchase three books for additional research and review (or, just because I am interested).

On the whole, I think this just proves I was actually Wikipedia before Wikipedia was a thing...

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Future Is Not What It Used To Be

 I have to admit that sometimes I despair for the future.

The future- once upon a time - was a sort of bright orb "out there" that we were all headed to.  Things were going to get even better.  Technology would provide us with ways to have "computers" that would be tools to enable us to do so much, cars that would fly, ships that would take us to the the stars, and useful side benefits like robots and video phones that would make our lives easier and more pleasant.  

I remember (I was probably 10 or 11 at the time) checking out a book from the library on colonies in space and what they would be like.  The pictures - you know them, the 1960's and 1970's versions of life in space in odd color combinations like avocado and tan and the fashion of polyester fabrics - made the future seem like a very exciting place to be.

The future, however, has turned out to be less bright.

The "computers" that were tools have become the tools we imagined.  They have also become the prison wardens of our existence, chaining us to our desks and work and tracking our every click, word, movement, and shopping pattern, making us little more than economic units to be tracked, subdivided, and monitored.  The cars we have now will not fly; instead, we are actively engaged in creating modes of transport with less mileage, more energy draw, and an even greater threat of toxicity from batteries that we have no real conversation of how we manufacture, recycle, or destroy (The unspoken issues of batteries is the great soft underbelly of the electric car movement that no-one really wishes to discuss, conveniently, as it destroys the narrative of clean energy).

Our ships have turned back from stars:  we can barely consider making it to the moon anymore (something we did 40 years ago) and any discussion around getting to the next planet out, Mars, seems to be a fantastic discussion of what things would be like in the absence of doing anything (Do I think we will get to Mars?  Possibly.  But I suspect we will lose people first. We - literally - have no idea how to push and sustain people in space without resupply from Earth because we have never done it.   We can land robots on Mars.  That is what we can successfully do).  

As to the side benefits - robots and video phones and such - the robots are appearing more and more, with the rather unfortunate side effect of supplanting people in their positions instead of supporting them (Yes, I am cognizant of the fact that new careers are and have been created.  These new careers, however, will never be able to absorb the numbers of low and semi-skilled labor that are being pushed to the side).  And we have our video phones - which more often than not we seldom use for calling but for everything else under the sun and which have become the silent electronic tether similar to the computer mentioned above:  every click, word, movement and shopping pattern stored away for whomever wants to use it.

Add to this the rather new wrinkle (at least here in Western Civilization) of the effective rise and growth of mob rule, where fire, violence and the subtle or actual intimidation of individuals to get one's way are more and more becoming the effective law of the land.  Following on this, of course, will be the effective economic disintegration of these areas of protest as businesses and sane people flee (carefully tracked, of course, by the aforementioned computers) and the resulting hollowing out of urban centers.

You can argue - probably successfully - that I have in some ages reached the Age of the Curmudgeon as so many before me have and so I am seeing only the bleaker parts of the future.  That may be.  But I would at least posit that as a student of history and a lover of sci-fi, I have seen the past (where this sort of thing has happened) and the possible future (where I have seen the "future as a hope" motif fall away to the "future as gritty reality") and I am merely coming back with some rather obvious conclusions.

I would have liked to see the flying cars.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Book Review: Achtung - Panzer!

 Old AF Sarge at Chant du Depart has been writing a fascinating (and very engaging) ongoing story of D-Day (I highly recommend it - he is an excellent writer and does a fine job writing from both sides).  This in turn has renewed some interest I had in World War II which has been in abeyance for many (40+ years).  Which, of course, reminded me of a book I had seen at my local used book store.  Which, of course, I bought.

Achtung - Panzer! is the theoretical and tactical presentation and case for tank warfare written by General Heinz Guderian.  It represents his thinking at the time (the book was published in 1937) on the potential of tank warfare and simply how the next war would be different than the last war.

The book starts with a broad overview of the Western Front in 1914 and 1915 and notes that the concept of warfare in that time prevented a successful resolution.  Infantry charges preceded by artillery bombardments did little to nothing to move either side to victory and only returned more and more dead bodies.  Addtionally, the way attacks were conducted (Artillery saturation) was almost always a giveaway as to where the attack would come.  Chemical Weapons (The Germans first, then the Allies) was used as weapon to attempt to achieve a breakthrough with limited results (uncertain outcome and the gas could blow back into one's own face).

The resolution - first exercised by the British at the Battle of The Somme, 1916 - was the creation of a motorized, armored, armed platform we call the tank.

The first uses of the tank were of limited success - they were mechanically inclined to break down, influenced greatly by the ground (they could fall into ditches, for example, and not get out), and were initially seen as being supportive of infantry.  But over time, the British and French discovered that massed groups of tanks could provide speedy initial assaults and breakthroughs to be followed up by infantry instead of only supportive of it,  especially as armor, motors, and weapons improved - also helped by the fact that the German High Command inexplicably failed to take the tank seriously or attempt to develop their own tank or even anti-tank weapons until late into the war (1918).  

(Interesting historical note:  The first tank to tank combat did not occur until 1918.  Only a bit over 20 years later, entire battles consisted of tanks.  So goes the speed of technological progress.)

The key to victory, Guderian states, is the concept of massed armor moving quickly to make breaches in the enemy line supported by aerial forces and followed up by quick exploitation of these gaps by motorized infantry.

After this historical review, Guderian then looks at three different models being developed in the InterWar period:  the British with an integrated motorized infantry/tank model, the French with a heavy tank battalion model, and the Russians with mass production.  

The final part of the book reviews what Guderian believes tank warfare should be in the then-coming future.  He notes that the development of the airplane in World War I from merely a reconnaissance tool to an item of attack and reconnaissance makes their interaction with these quick moving attacks a necessity to achieving victory.  Clever historians will recognize this as the genesis of Blitzkreig or Lightning War.

As a person of historical bent, I enjoyed this book.  The review of history was very useful (my World War I knowledge is not very complete) and I found the thinking of Guderian very interesting in terms of how he clearly recognized the applications and successes of the tank as applied by the Allies, something which completely escaped the German High Command.  It also reinforced the concept - true of life in general - that breakout success that leads to victory is found in surprise and speed, especially in the situation where everyone and everything has settled into a stalemate.

He is an excellent writer (he was an instructor for many years) and the translation is a good one.  Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

How To Remake Professional Sports

 I am not the target market for professional sports.

I have not been for years really, at least since the early 2000's when we moved away from the nearby National Hockey League and I realized that three hours to sit and watch a game on television was a bit of an investment in time that I was not willing to make.  Thus, most of the storm which has erupted in professional sports in the U.S. (and we seem to be the one with the problem) has passed over my head except as a point of discussion on the various sites that I follow.

That said, I know and have known many people for whom professional sports is a major form of entertainment.  I am also more than cognizant of the fact that professional sports is an economic driver for many people - bar owners, ticket takers, local restaurants and hotels - that are in no wise privy to the exceptionally ridiculous salaries that professional athletes command.  

Therefore, in the spirit of preserving an economic engine (which I derive no value from, by the way) I submit the following suggestions in the hopes that Professional Sports can heal itself:

1)  Eliminate All Mascots And Team Mascot Names - This is beyond the current sense of cancel culture that some mascots need to be "removed".  In point of fact, mascots add nothing to the execution of the sport.  They are, inevitably, cartoonish sort of characters, created really to generate identification with a team (and thus, sales of merchandise).

So eliminate them.  Move to what other parts of the world do.  Call them by the city name - The Georgetown Football Team, The Germanville Baseball Team, The Mesa Verde United Hockey Team. 

No need to cancel anything.  No need to spend money on expensive printing of jerseys with characters.  And no distractions from the actual sport. If people can no longer dress up as the sports mascot of their choice, well, that is a cost I am willing to bear.

2)  Eliminate Names on Jerseys  - Hurling, the Irish National Sport which goes back at least 2500 years and is still played today, has a practice that I recently learned about:  there are no names on jerseys and the player numbers are issued by the position the play.  It has been referred to as the humblest of sports.

Think of this:  An entire playing field of your sport of choice, where every player is un-named and you know the positions by the numbers.  Again, the focus comes on the sport, not on the individuals (which is really the point of the team, is it not?).

Mind you, no player's union will ever willing go for this. After all, this (they will argue) will remove the attention from the accomplishments of the individuals (and thus, the high salaries of some, by the way).  

But - and this is always my question - why are you playing?  If it is for love the game, it should not matter. If, on the other hand, it for the love of money and attention to self, just declare it.

3)  Eliminate All Things Not Pertaining To The Game - As you may have heard (and as you may know, we do not discuss here) - professional sports of late has taken to a certain set of support and actions.  To be clear, this is not the first time that professional sports has done so - they have also supported such things as Breast Cancer Awareness, The Military, and other organizations.

My proposal:  Eliminate everything.  Eliminate singing of all national anthems (which, by the way, have nothing to do with the game, much as I love our national anthem).  Eliminate any and all support of anything which does not directly impact the sport on the field of play - no support of any cause no matter what the nature of it.  Players enter the field, warm up, and play.  

I know.  This will create all sorts of angst.  "Freedom of Speech" is what some will say, "Nonsupportive Nationals" others will say.  

But let us be clear.  The point of professional athletes are to provide a service - entertainment - much as my job is to make sure projects move forward.  My company does not care or require that I stand at the national anthem every morning or plaster a sticker supporting something on my shirt.  They care that I do my job - and that my personal beliefs do not get in the way of that. The same is no less true of athletes.

And besides, they will then be - like the rest of us - free to do all of that in their free time.

4) Continue To Ban Fans - Having traveled to The Ranch lately and watched some professional sports with my father, the single biggest inanity of this current Plague is not the empty stadiums with their cardboard cutouts (which, to be fair, is silly but a clever fundraiser for good causes) but the fact that they are piping audience noises into the stadiums.  The spectacle of an empty stadium with fan sounds in it is both ridiculous and, at the same time, a lovely visual of image of the state of fantasy we seem to live so much of our life in.  It has also removed fan fights, fan candid shots, and fans showing bad, lewd, or just rude behavior.

So let us keep the fans out.  Generate revenue via viewing.

Yes, I understand this undermines my concern about the folks that are relying on sports to support them at the stadium - but my response would be (given The Plague) this appears to be a fait accompli in any case.  But this accomplishes two things.  

The first is, like everything else I have suggested, is that it focus the attention on the sport itself instead everything going on around it (and frankly, how many shots of fans dancing do I really want to see).

The second  - and this is part of the less generous side of me - is it points to professional sports being what it really is:  entertainment, nothing more. It displays professional sports as it really is:  passive watching of something no different than a movie or a television show or a martial arts demonstration.

Do you want to be involved in a sport?  Then go do the sport.  Get out there.  Engage.  Be active.  There are activities for (literally) every level of fitness and ability.  But participate, do not pretend that sitting and watching is the same as doing the sport itself.

Personally, I have no dog in this fight: professional sports are as much a foreign country to me as Nepal and am as likely to go there as I am to become a fan again.  But if professional sports wants to survive in the long run (and I firmly believe there will be a financial reckoning soon), they might be advised to reconsider their model.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020



I have waited 20 years for this day.

I have tried to grow citrus plants at three different houses, in two different climates.

I have had trees grow but never produce blossoms.

I have had trees grow and produce blossoms but no fruit.

I have had trees grow and produce blossoms and then get cut down in Winter's cold.

30 Limes.

Victory is sweet.

 (Well, really sour in this case, but you get the idea.)

Never Give Up.  Never Surrender.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Growing Potential Of The Boycott

Given the last 6 to 9 months, I having been using - perhaps for the first time, certainly more than ever - the power of the personal boycott.

On one hand of course, it has been easier than ever:  with the reduction in ability to do a great many things, I have a great many less things to spend my money on.  But it has also given me the opportunity to really think about - in some fundamental ways - about whom I spend my money with.

The choices are easy in some cases:  where a smaller business, whether local or on-line, will replace a corporate business, I will spend with the smaller business.  In some cases, where the business is clearly opposed to what I consider to be important values, I have stopped spending with them or supporting them altogether.  

I do not mean to pretend that this is a perfect system.  In some cases, there is little choice of who I can spend my money with and so I minimize what I do spend.  But things - and not just purchases, but how I invest my time - have become much more of a conscious exercise.

I do not pretend that my simple actions of not spending are somehow going to impact anyone's bottom line (except, of course, the small businesses whom I do purchase from.  They are always grateful).  But I see the edge of something potentially exciting coming out of a difficult economic and social period:  the boycott may become an actual tool of policy again.

Time was that companies and corporations could shrug off the complaints of a few "crackpots and weirdos" - after all, the economy was good, money was cheap, and the markets were growing.  Sadly, times have changed:  the economy is not good, money is still cheap (but it is being flooded into the market), and markets is at best questionable for the short and mid term due to a combination of increased competition and a rather nasty global economic malaise.  

Suddenly, dollars (or the currency of your choice) matter.

Restaurants, entertainment, retailers - every aspect of the economy is now dependent more than ever on a population buying their products.  And at perhaps an intersection of history as I cannot remember it, a population is now motivated to consider how they are spending their dollars and their time in the face of organizations that support neither their views nor their beliefs.

For most of my lifetime, the assumptions was a corporation or company could act as it pleased with its customer base and overall see no impact.  For the first time in a very long time, that is not true.

I may only be a single person.  But multiple a single person times the thousands or millions, and suddenly, these same corporations may have to start making choices they thought they could avoid.

Your time matters.  Your dollars - the dollars you earn with your hard work and sweat, that represent your life as measured by the time you invested in making them - matter.  Let us put them to work, not only by supporting those whose products we endorse by their craftsmanship and quality, but by investing them in those places where we are appreciated, not ignored or mocked.