141 Years Ago Today– The Battle of the Greasy Grass- aka Little Big Horn

My first assignment in the Army was in the 1st Cavalry Division. A mechanized Infantry unit but they were still proud of their lineage to the cavalry. Gary Owen is still the unit song. The 9th and 10th Cav, Buffalo Soldiers, were celebrated. There is even a 7th Cavalry inside the division.

The first road trip my wife and I took, it was to Little Big Horn. I’d always wondered how that played out, but once I saw the terrain, as a military person, I understood.

Little Big Horn is an examination in leadership failure. And ego run amok. So what led Custer to lead half the 7th Cavalry to its doom? We have to look back to his time at West Point and move forward from there.

 

Fargo. Season 3. Thoughts?

Just finished Season 3 and it was a pretty interesting ride. The thing about this show is its combination of logic and outrageous coincidence. It strains credulity to the breaking point at times, yet also many parts make a strange sort of sense.

Season 1 and Billy Bob Thornton is my favorite. This season had some slow stretches and also a few jump the shark moments, but that’s part and parcel of the overall concept.

The ending also was morally ambiguous. And plot ambiguous.

So– what did you think?

Is the glass half empty or half full? Does it even matter because . . .

We don’t know what’s in the glass? Would you drink what’s left regardless? Could be poison. Could be the elixir of life.

This morning I woke to a comment on one of my Medium posts of: “Report on good news for once.”

I’ve been thinking about it and it echoed a conversation my wife and I had the previous evening. The ending of the movie Life was such a bummer. Very negative. A while back we’d watched Get Out. In the director’s cut, there was another ending. A bleaker one. And we both felt that the ending is what totally made Get Out. With the bleak ending, that movie wouldn’t have done anywhere near as well. The ending put it way over the top. Loved the ending!

Jordan Peele talked about the editing process of the movie. And that’s where that movie was made. Because he changed the ending that he’d originally written.

I read an interview with the director of Life and he talks about insisting on the ending as it was written and wanting it to be ‘noir’. Essentially he wanted to be ‘different’. And it was. Just not in a good way. People didn’t respond to it. Word of mouth was like the ending: negative.

Which, duh.

There is a difference between being ‘smart’ and being ‘clever’.

I was wrong, Jenny Crusie was right. When we wrote together I’d say the opening of the book is the most important part. And she said the ending was. My take was that the opening got people into the book. But that’s like saying the opening of a movie is the most important part. Well, duh, they’re in the theater already if they see the opening. What you have to focus on is what they’re feeling leaving the theater.

I am a product of negativity and also some tragedy in my adult life. That partially explains my instinctual negativity. Heck, I’ve got two books titled: Shit Doesn’t Just Happen: The Gift of Failure. I’ve written three survival manuals. The first place my wife and I traveled to was Little Big Horn. See a pattern?

The ending of my first book, Eyes of the Hammer, was negative. It was a mirror of another book that came later, Clear and Present Danger. Same topic—Special Forces heading to Colombia and taking on drug traffickers. In Clancy’s book, besides a much smarter and better title, they win. And based on my experiences in Special Forces and also my innate negativity and the overall reality, in my book, at the end, the hero, Dave Riley, is walking the streets of da Bronx, my hometown, and sees a drug deal. The point was realistic. We will never win the war on drugs with guns.

But. Are you a sell out to have a positive ending? Note I say positive, not necessarily happy.

It depends on your goal. And I know I have not examined what my goals are in terms of emotion as deeply as I should. I should know better. Goals are the first thing I teach in Write it Forward.

The original screenplay for Pretty Woman was titled Five Thousand Dollars. At the end he goes back to NY and she goes back to the street. Would it have done as well? How would people have felt about that original ending? What would they have said about that movie? I ask those questions in one of my presentations. But I realize that’s not the real question. Would it have entertained as well? We are, after all, in the entertainment business. Robert Altman poked fun at that change in the ending in The Player with the movie inside the movie.

When I was binging The Leftovers, I asked my wife if this was going to have a “payoff” at the end? Obviously I had some expectation. As a writer, I have to grant my readers that they have expectations.

Either we have free will or we don’t. If we do, then deciding on positive or negative is a choice regardless of predilection. One can be a positive realist or a negative realist.

Given that choice, I’m going to start making different ones. In fact, given my freedom as an indie author, I can actually change things I did years ago. I’m going to change the ending of Eyes of the Hammer. Not the core plot, or even much. I always say you can change a book entirely with one sentence. So with a couple of sentences, that ending will change in tone, not in substance. My next book, Valentines Day (Time Patrol) is out with beta readers right now and won’t come out until 24 July. Plenty of time. I know what I need to do to adjust that ending and make it more positive.

That’s a choice and I choose differently. I will drink from the half empty glass and assume it’s the elixir. And that it will fill back up.

 

 

Special Forces turns 65 Today.

A bit hard for me to believe– I’ve got a coin here for the 35th Anniversary. We had a dinner in 10th Group– the first Special Forces Group. And Colonel Aaron Banks was our speaker. He was the founder of Special Forces when a small group of men stood on Smoke Bomb Hill at Fort Bragg and became 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne). They were given the number 10 to fool the Soviets into thinking there were 9 more just like it!

Lots of OSS vets, Jedburgh, etc in those early units. Displaced Eastern European vets.

Seems long ago and far away. 10th was stationed at Fort Devens, MA, then. It’s at Ft. Carson, CO now. Which makes sense as its a mountain and winter-warfare oriented Group. When I was there, we only had 5th, 7th and 10th Groups on active duty so we all covered a large swath of the world. We deployed teams to the Middle East often, including the Lebanon MTTs; there when the Marine Corps Barracks was blown.

Besides my deployments, I like to think I contributed a bit to the current Special Forces because I was on the committee that completely revamped the Q-Course. We made it a permanent change of station, rather than TDY, invented the Assessment and Selection pre-phase (borrowing heavily of course from SAS and Delta Selection). There was a question for a while of making Ranger School a combined SFAS and Phase I. That wasn’t practical as Ranger School couldn’t have handled the number of students.

We also pushed hard for the language component– which meant an SF soldier would now be assigned a home group. A big change and one that was long overdue. This all happened just after SF actually became a branch of its own.

While Special Operations are the media darling these days (at least, it appears, SEALs), back then, it was an uphill slog to get things changed in the face of the regular Army.

A key tenet, though, of any military force, is to remember old Clausewitz’s famous statement: War is not an independent phenomenon, but the continuation of politics by different means.

So to view Special Operations as a “fix” and ignoring peaceful, political solutions is naive. An issue I see with our current employment of military force is the lack of a coherent strategic objective. We seems to be “holding the line” without any goal.

Be that as it may. Happy Birthday, Special Forces!

Surviving a Post-Apocalyptic World?

There’s a key phase to survival in such an environment that is rarely covered in the literature on the subject and that is ‘scavenging’. Survival manuals tend to go straight from opening your fridge and zapping something in the microwave to making a bow and arrow out of branches and animal sinew.

While Walking Dead is perhaps one of the worst ‘survival’ shows out there, it does use the scavenge phase. Glenn was known for this. There is an art to scavenging. In fact, depending on the number of people who survive the ‘apocalypse’ whatever that might be, the danger is that the scavenge phase could cause people to lose their survival skills. An entire generation could survive off of what is left and thus not know how to reboot a rudimentary civilization. In fact, in my companion survival guides, Prepare and Survive, I focus on knowledge being key survival gear. Books! Books on gardening, on basic metal-working, on medical techniques.

Also, as a side-note about Walking Dead—unless some refinery has started up somewhere, there is no viable gasoline. And how come no one carries extra magazines? And—okay, enough.

I was thinking post-apocalyptic because today my novel, which has very little in terms of survival in it in the generic sense, BURNERS, is free. It and the follow on book, PRIME, examine a post-apocalyptic world in the Puget Sound area where the world is divided into four groups depending on life span. There are the People, the Evermores, the Middlemores and then the 98%: BURNERS, who have a median Deathday of 25.

Everyone knows their Deathday, except the People.

While we focus on wealth as delineating that top .1%, really it will be time. Life. The most precious commodity of all.

I won’t go into too much more, but BURNERS is free today. The title comes from the famous poem:

“My candle burns on both ends;

It will not last the night.

But ah my foes, and oh my friends,

It gives a lovely light!”

Nothing but good times ahead.

Or. Maybe not.

 

 

Cool Gus: War Machine. A General Who Found A War But Didn’t Know What To Do With It

Unless I’m missing something, this movie has been flying under the radar. Especially given the cast. I didn’t recognize Brad Pitt in the starring role for a while, which is a good thing. Meg Tilley makes a late appearance but is perfect in the role as his wife. I remember her from the Maui Writers Conference years ago. And, of course, The Big Chill. Classic!

It’s based on a Rolling Stone article that cost the real General his job. It’s pretty much factual, although the voice-over by the ‘reporter’ is more opinionated.

I tweeted about this movie and got extreme reactions both ways: some loved it (but it depressed them) while others thought it was pure BS.

One can make their own mind up, but I do suggest researching the story behind the movie and what really happened. At least read the article it’s based on. At least understand this tidbit which might make you think twice before dismissing this movie: General Patreaus, as a Battalion Commander in the 101st Airborne, during peacetime, was ‘accidentally’ shot on a rifle range by one of his own soldiers. Any Infantryman worth his salt will tell you a 2nd LT’s career wouldn’t survive such an event, yet Patreaus, who had conveniently married the Superintendent’s daughter after graduation, rose to four star general in our current Army. How? And he didn’t go to prison for passing classified information to his lover. Why?

The general in question in this movie is roughly my contemporary in the Army, a few years before me actually. He’s clearly a narcissist. Although not a malignant narcissist. But even a plain narcissist can be dangerous, especially when other people’s lives are in his hands.

The point about not being able to defeat an insurgency are spot on. I spent years of my life studying, training, and deploying in the field of insurgency and counter-insurgency. Even the General points out a flaw in fighting that type of war, while being oblivious of the bigger picture of “why are we even fighting this war?”.

I’ve searched in vain for clearly laid out strategic goals for our current military combat involvement in six countries (at least that we know of) and found nothing that comes close to meeting the definitions I was taught were required at West Point. I’m also lacking exactly what legal justification there is for all our forces deployed in harm’s way overseas.

While the German reporter scene (always love Tilda Swinton, perfect in Michael Clayton!) might seem too much, she actually asks on target questions. We know the Iraq invasion was built on lies. And we did ‘win’ as much as we’re ever going to win in Afghanistan by the end of 2002 thanks to our Special Forces. Why are we still there pouring our soldiers’ lives and a fortune into that hellhole in 2017? What is the end game other than pouring money into the military-industrial complex?

I do wonder where the brave military leaders are who will state the obvious: we’re fighting wars with no strategic goals, no possibility of ‘victory’, and not in our national interest? That would take more courage than sitting in a FOB issuing orders.

The tone of the movie was a bit inconsistent. And the diversion to the on the ground combat, while I understand the reason, was a bit distracting.

However, I do think the voice-over made several gut-wrenching, spot-on, observations. Not just about the military, but about life. I know some deep narcissists and the scene where he salutes the statue and the commentary is spot on. I also wonder if in real life he accepted what happened so easily once the article came out? An interesting side note, and just an opinion, the story is Obama offered the General several other jobs before firing him. And was turned down. I think the firing was, in hindsight, a mistake. Because it turned a large group against that President and that has echoes into our present.

Cool Gus is going to a five paw system (because four paws up either means he wants his belly rubbed, or, well, we don’t want to discuss the other). He gives this four of five paws up.

Your thoughts?

Cool Gus: Leftovers: Lots of Questions, Lots of Satisfaction

After binging a season and a half of Leftovers, I told my wife: they better wrap this up and not leave us hanging. Her reply was that the ride was good enough.

The ride was up and down. Some episodes were yawners but most of them were deep examinations into the human condition. Particularly family. There were also a number of odds vignettes out of sequence from the story. Also, episodes that focused on a character other than the main ones.

For those who haven’t watched it—Cool Gus says it’s worth it and gives it his paws up. Definitely worth your time.

Now— spoilers ahead.

Was there a payoff?

Yes. Did it answer all the questions? Not even close. In fact, if you start thinking, you start seeing some big plot holes.

But here’s the thing. The ending gave emotional satisfaction. Nora and Kevin. Finally. They belonged together. Kevin committed to her, late, but it’s never too late when you hold a candle for someone.

Was he immortal? Was he mentally ill? We can pick what we like, but he seems to have resolved his issues by the end.

And Nora related a twist that’s so obvious but it never occurred to me over all the episodes. Brilliant. What if the 2% had the 98% disappear? What kind of world would that be? Of course, my first thought was, if Nora got the guy to invent the machine to come back, wouldn’t more 2%ers come back? Or had they all built new lives?

Regardless. We liked it.

Cool Gus gives it three of four paws up!

Cool Gus wants to know what you think?

War Memorials and Church Signs—Searching for America

I recently drove over 4,000 miles across middle America. I didn’t hit either coast. From TN to AZ, up to Utah and back.

I don’t do Interstates in my Jeep. I do side roads. I pass through lots of small towns.

Here are some of my observations, make of them what you will:

Most “downtown” areas in small towns are dying. While there were some robust centers, most were filled with empty storefronts. I passed through one small community in western Texas that made me think “Salem’s Lot”.

War Memorials. Most county centers tended to have one. And there were a stunning number of names on them. At first it’s surprising given how small the town is, but then you realize it’s the entire county. But even so. There’s a scene in Winters Bone, where they show the local high school and there’s a class on maternity for the pregnant students and their boyfriends and then we shift to the junior ROTC marching in perfect synchronicity in the gyms. This is where our soldiers come from in an all-volunteer army. You don’t see many Harvard grads enlisting. Nor Stanford. And not in the 1%.

Churches. So many churches. And signs. Not just on the churches, but lots of billboards and hand-made signs on the side of the road with religious themes. I’d say my non-scientific swag is that 80% of the messages on those signs were threats. Believe or burn in hell. “God loves you and he will torture you for eternity if you don’t believe that!”

It was a bit confusing.

It made me start wondering several things.

Why do we memorialize our war dead? If you consider the wars our country has fought in over the past couple of centuries, many had imperialism or economic factors at the core, not “democracy” or to save our country. Smedley Butler, one of the most decorated Marines of all time, expressed his feelings. Most recently we’ve got WWII (won), Korea (still ongoing), Vietnam (lost), Iraq/Afghanistan (still going on) and a smattering of other engagements. Were they just wars? Tom Brokaw called the WWII generation the “greatest”. Have we been downhill from there? Does the ethics of the war make any difference to the dead and those who served and our need to memorialize them?

Both sides believe God is on their side in war. Ultimately, of course, the winner gets to write the history.

Which gets me to fear. Fearing God was a constant theme. Be afraid, very afraid, but also have faith in a being that presents no proof of existence which is an interesting conundrum. The messages of most religions are actually very positive and uplifting at their core. Love. Take care of each other. Etcetera. But the practice seems a bit out of whack. We have churches of “prosperity” now. Where God wants us to be rich. I vaguely remember some passage in that book about that.

Fear. We fear hell. We fear ISIS (which gets a tremendous amount of air time for a group that has had practically no impact on the average Americans life and is not likely to do so). We bend our lives around our fears. We get manipulated with fear. We fear immigrants even though the reality of their impact is almost nothing for most of us. We fear people other than us using the bathroom (again, the people we should really fear in there are often the ones passing the laws telling us to fear others). We fear problems that aren’t problems except they are useful talking points for those who want to use our fear against us for their own gain.

We fear the future. We fear change.

Researching Valentines Day (time Patrol, I did some reading on FDR. I leave you with one of his more famous quotes:

 

Points West: Aliens, Trees with spikes, and more

I departed Writing Scenic over the weekend and headed west in my Jeep. I’m currently in Phoenix presenting at a conference and will be heading north from here tomorrow morning to destinations unknown.

So far I visited the UFO Museum in Roswell, NM. Strangely, there really isn’t much in the museum although they try really hard. Speaking from personal experience during my abduction, they really don’t want us to know much about them, so that’s good. Is it me or is the size of the saucer wrong– will those four fit in it?

I mountain biked in the Sonoran Preserve yesterday. It was only 97 degrees. Supposed to get up to 107 tomorrow. There were odd trees there that had spikes on them. Far different from my usual stomping ground in TN. Actually, I think they’re aliens standing very still and enjoying the sun while observing us and debating whether to annihilate us or not. But since we’re doing such a good of that on our own, they’re really waiting for the mothership to come back so they can get the hell out of here.

I binged VEEP to get up to speed– not as funny as previous seasons but on target. Also catching up on Leftovers which deserves a blog post of its own as its one of the weirdest shows I’ve ever seen but very addictive.

As I drove across the country on back roads, my take is that many small towns are dead or dying. The main streets are boarded up. Here in Phoenix I look at the masses of people and buildings and cars on the road and wonder about water supplies and power. This place seems to have a tenuous hold on the terrain and environment. But that’s the way my mind goes. Survival, etc. I loaded more water into the Jeep. Yeah, it’s a dry heat. Like we had in Colorado, but that’s a dangerous heat because you don’t sweat as much as the humid heat in the Southeast. So you might not drink as much as you need.

I know. Deep thoughts. Actually, I’ve had a lot of them and am slowly sorting them out. I plan on doing some camping at elevation and out of the heat in Utah and Colorado in the coming days. Then it’s back to Writing Scenic and no more traveling for the rest of the year is planned. We’ll run several workshops at the house and enjoy being still for a while.

Nothing but good times ahead!

 

Live, Die, Repeat and Repeat?

I just re-watched Edge of Tomorrow, re-titled Live, Die, Repeat by the studios, with my uncle who is visiting. I noted some things I hadn’t caught first time around. Also it was just announced that there will be another movie, but not a sequel, but a prequel sequel, which makes sense. I can see pitching this as Groundhog Day meets Alien. The man who wrote the story said he was inspired by video games, where you get to come back to life and re-fight the same battle over and over until you master it.

I’m not a big Tom Cruise fan but I though this was one of his better roles as he was able to poke fun at himself. Emily Blunt was very good in her role as Sergeant Vrataski.

In LDR, a couple of things. When they kiss at the end– not sure I buy it. She only knew him for that day and didn’t seem in her character.

Also, she was the hero of Verdun– while it sounds cool, Verdun is in France. Yet when they show maps, the Mimics own most of mainland Europe, including Verdun. So what gives there? I must have missed something.

And, it occurs to me– did we stop making tanks? The suits were cool but sort of the way Starship Trooper went off the rails big time, it seems like tanks would make crunchies out of aliens. (Crunchies is what tankers call the Infantry BTW). Lots of cool tilt wing aircraft, as a jumpmaster thought the “jump” sequences were cool, but there were no tanks on the beach. Even on D-Day, they pushed to get tanks on the beach with the first wave, rigging some with canvas boats around them– almost all sank. No tanks, no artillery, no naval gun support I could see, some jets flying high overhead, but the focus is on the grunt. Of course, combat always comes down to boots on the ground, so . . .

I’m in that pondering time travel thing as I finish up Valentines Day for publication later this month.

Nothing but good times ahead. And ahead. And ahead. And yesterday. And today. And tomorrow. Creeps in that petty pace from day to day– okay, enough.

Thoughts on LDR?