Thursday, December 8, 2016

Trump and the generals - a good or a bad thing?

There seems to be growing concern over Donald Trump's proposed appointments of three former generals to senior positions in his Administration:
  • Retired Army Lieutenant-General Mike Flynn as National Security Adviser;
  • Retired Marine General James Mattis as Secretary of Defense;  and
  • Retired Marine General John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security.

I'll mention two critical articles first, then give my own views.  First, the Wall Street Journal opines:

President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday turned to a third retired military officer to help him run the country when he takes office in January, a move that represents an unusual level of military influence in the executive branch.

. . .

In so doing, Mr. Trump is plumbing the global expertise and experience that comes with a life in the U.S. military, but he has also aroused concerns that his reliance on retired officers to lead security agencies ignores an important constitutional tenet of civilian oversight of the government.

“I can’t honestly recall an administration with as many flag officers” in top roles, said Thomas Alan Schwartz, a history professor at Vanderbilt University. “I think this is probably somewhat unprecedented.”

. . .

Critics of Mr. Trump ... believe the choices threaten the constitutional fire wall between the civilian government and the military. “This is not normal,” said Stephen Miles, director of the antiwar Win Without War coalition. “As the saying goes, if all you have is hammers, everything looks like a nail.”

. . .

Mr. Trump hasn’t discussed the reasoning behind his choices, and they may reflect his desire for results-oriented individuals who approach problems pragmatically, not necessarily ideologically, as experts say military officers tend to do.

“These nominations and appointments of former military leaders do make a break from the GOP establishment, the traditional think tankers and former government officials of previous Republican administrations—a break which the candidate promised, if elected,” said Stephen Wayne, a professor of government at Georgetown University.

It may also be Mr. Trump’s reaction to the Obama presidency. The Obama White House is widely seen as being leery of the Pentagon’s power and the agendas of its generals ever since the decision to “surge” troops into Afghanistan in 2009. That move came after Mr. Obama and his national security advisers felt boxed in after the plans were leaked.

There's more at the link.

Next, the Washington Post weighs in on the subject.

“I’m concerned,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “Each of these individuals may have great merit in their own right, but what we’ve learned over the past 15 years is that when we view problems in the world through a military lens, we make big mistakes.”

. . .

Trump’s heavy reliance on military leaders marks a departure from the previous three presidents, who tapped a few generals for the highest jobs with mixed success and relied mostly on people who had spent decades in civilian service, as politicians or academics or lawyers.

“Trump is clearly operating out of a particular model,” said William A. Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Almost all of his Cabinet will be made up of people from the military or people from a corporate background, and what they have in common is strong leadership and executive ­decision-making.”

. . .

Daniel Benjamin, the former senior counterterrorism official at the State Department in the Obama administration and now a professor at Dartmouth College, said having too many generals in what are traditionally civilian positions is “a matter of deep concern.”

“Generals as a rule believe in hierarchies and taking orders, and if the president gives them an order you have to wonder how likely they are to push back against it,” Benjamin said. “Generals have one set of skills, and diplomacy is not in the top drawer of that tool kit.”

On social media Wednesday, there was some snarky commentary about Trump’s emerging Cabinet resembling “a military junta.” Anthony Scaramucci, a Trump transition team official, defended Trump’s selections on Twitter: “Decorated American Generals aren’t warmongers — they’re among the most intelligent, disciplined & patriotic people our country has to offer!”

Most military officers have spent their entire careers within structured organizations with large staffs and clear chains of command. Sometimes they struggle in the more freewheeling world of politics and policy — to say nothing of what is expected to be the Trump White House’s unpredictable environment.

“Great generals don’t always make great Cabinet officials,” said Phil Carter, an Iraq War veteran and senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security.

Again, more at the link.

My responses are mixed.  I think the critics are partly right, but partly wrong.  Let's start with an area of agreement.

I regard an overly authoritarian emphasis in any administration as potentially dangerous.  For example, I agree that Senator Jeff Sessions is technically well qualified for the post of Attorney-General of the United States, for which Mr. Trump has nominated him.  Nevertheless, I'm worried by several of the positions he's taken as a Senator, where he's supported infringements on personal privacy in the name of electronic security, and restricted the long overdue reform of a clearly broken criminal justice system.  If he uses the authority of the Attorney-General's office to pursue his personal agendas in those issues, that will be as egregious an overreach as was the conduct of Eric Holder (e.g. in racial and voting rights issues) and Loretta Lynch (e.g. in stonewalling investigations into IRS misconduct and the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal) in misusing that office for their own partisan political agendas.  If we (rightly, IMHO) condemn both of the latter cases, we certainly need to be on our guard against the former.

I think having former Generals in positions of executive authority in a political administration may - I say again, may, not necessarily will - risk a similar problem.  Whether or not it does depends on the generals concerned, and on the President, who must supervise and control them.  Generals are used to saying "Frog!" and seeing people jump in response.  (Or, as a former Navy SEAL once put it, "If I say 'S***!', you just ask how much and what color.")  Having been in situations where such discipline was entirely appropriate and absolutely necessary, I can't disagree with it under such conditions.  However, it probably won't work in a largely civilian administration.  I think critics are right to be cautious about the potential for such conflicting approaches . . . but again I emphasize, that's potential, not necessarily actual.  Only time will tell whether or not it happens.

Despite these risks, there are some very real potential upsides as well.  One of them is that generals are accustomed to getting things done, and holding accountable subordinates who don't get them done.  When the WSJ says that their appointments "reflect [Mr. Trump's] desire for results-oriented individuals who approach problems pragmatically, not necessarily ideologically", I think that's exactly correct - and very appropriate, too.

The Federal bureaucracy is legendary for its entrenched stubbornness and recalcitrance.  Lifelong bureaucrats, who know they can't be fired without a long, involved, elaborate process that requires jumping through all sorts of hoops that they themselves have erected in order to protect themselves, are notorious for doing as they see fit, irrespective of the policies of the administration of the time.  Examples:  the EPA conniving with pressure groups to deliberately lose court fights in order to enact measures that would be politically unacceptable, or the IRS targeting conservative and/or right-wing groups and using tax audits as a weapon against critics of the Obama administration.  There is no evidence that any of these incidents or patterns of behavior were undertaken on the orders of the President;  they appear, instead, to be the knee-jerk, reflexive reaction of senior members of those departments and agencies, to support and defend policies and politicians of which they approved.

If anyone is in a position to do something about such entrenched resistance, I suggest that former generals are probably among the best people available.  They aren't about to put up with that sort of nonsense, and I think they're more than capable of bypassing it, leaving the individuals and departments involved to 'wither on the vine', and implementing more direct solutions to the problem.  When it comes to obstructionist bureaucrats, I suspect that even if they can't be fired, they can be transferred to another job where their resistance will be less effective.  (For example, how about the left-wing, progressive lawyers hired since Obama took office to staff the Voting Rights Division of the Department of Justice?  It may be hard to fire them altogether . . . but there's nothing in civil service rules to stop them being transferred to another job, if their old one is 'reorganized' out from under them.  I'm sure they'd enjoy the bracing breezes of Nebraska, where agricultural investigative and enforcement inspectors are hard at work - and what a contrast to the Beltway that would be!)

As for fears that the appointment of three retired generals will "threaten the constitutional fire wall between the civilian government and the military", I think critics are ignoring three realities:
  1. President Trump will be a civilian.
  2. The vast majority of his senior appointments will be civilians.
  3. Retired Generals are, by strict legal definition, now civilians, too.
I think that settles that one.

Finally, there's the problem of simply getting things organized and moving.  There's far too much red tape and obfuscation in Washington.  The Trump administration will have to cut away an awful lot of deadwood that's built up there, particularly the stifling web of regulations and administrative rulings that Congress has never passed, but delegated to government departments (who promptly used the opportunity to entrench themselves and their own power, at the expense of the constitutional separation of powers).  Generals are used to dealing with such obstructions.  They may not be able to use artillery or close air support in Washington (which may or may not be a pity), but they are probably better suited than most career civil servants or politicians to applying judicious pressure at appropriate points to get things done.

At least, I sincerely hope so.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A five-minute higher education?

According to Father Guido Sarducci, yes indeed.


So much for Time magazine . . .

Received via e-mail, origin unknown:

So much for media objectivity!  Maybe they should make that the subject of their next cover . . .


'Stoke The Flames Higher' - progress report

Thank you very much to all of you who bought, or borrowed (through Kindle Unlimited), my new novel, 'Stoke The Flames Higher'.

Within 24 hours of launch, it had reached the top 10 in Amazon's 'Hot New Releases' lists for both military science fiction and space opera.  It's slipped a little since then, but it's still on the front page of both lists, which is great.  That helps new readers to find it more easily.  Its highest sales rank so far has been 1,019 in the Kindle Store, which is also excellent.  (That rank fluctuates from day to day, even from hour to hour, so don't pay too much attention to a 'snapshot' number.)  The book's received 14 reviews at the time of writing, 13 5-star and 1 4-star.  Thank you so much to everyone who's reviewed it!

If you have a blog, or (a) social media account(s), I'd be very grateful if you'd please spread the word about the new book's availability.  Independent authors like myself depend almost entirely on word of mouth to publicize their books.  I couldn't do this without all of you!

I'm going to be preparing a 'lessons learned' post about this book launch, since it has some unique features.  Look for it at Mad Genius Club this Friday.  I'll post a link to it once it's up.

Thanks again!


Animal welfare vs. food production: a problem only the rich can afford

There's a brouhaha brewing in Massachusetts over a new law that prescribes minimum standards for keeping some farm animals.

All hogs in Massachusetts will be able to stretch their legs and turn around in their crates and all hens will be able to spread their wings under a law passed in November by voters in the state.

Laws like this one, which strictly regulate how farm animals are confined, are becoming more common across the U.S., as large-scale farming replaces family farms and consumers learn more about what happens behind barn doors. Massachusetts is the 12th state to ban the use of some livestock- and poultry-raising cages or crates, such as gestation crates for sows, veal crates for calves or battery cages for chickens, which critics say abusively restrict the animals’ movement.

The restrictive laws have taken hold so far in states that have relatively small agriculture industries for animals and animal products and fewer large-scale farming operations. But producers in big farming states see the writing on the wall. Backed by state farm bureaus, large-scale industrial farmers are pushing for changes that would make it harder for states to further regulate the way they do business.

. . .

Farmers acknowledge that some people who do not spend much time on farms may object to some of their practices. But they say that they do not abuse animals and that their practices are the most efficient and safest way to keep up with demand for food. And, they say, complying with restrictions on raising poultry and livestock like those approved in Massachusetts are costly for them and for consumers.

. . .

But consumer expectations already are forcing producers to change how they operate, said Josh Balk, vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the U.S. Demand for free-range eggs and grass-fed beef is growing, pushing large companies to change their standards. Wal-Mart and McDonald’s recently committed to using only suppliers that raise cage-free hens by 2025.

Market demands will force producers to change their practices or be left behind, Balk said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that to meet demand, the industry will have to convert over half its egg production to cage-free systems by 2025, up from the current rate of 10 percent.

. . .

When animal welfare groups started about a decade ago to pay their employees to take jobs on farms to expose practices, the industry responded by pushing for what animal welfare advocates call ag-gag laws. Some of the laws made it a crime to take photos or videos of private farm property without the owner’s permission, while others made it a crime for an employee of an animal welfare organization to lie about where they worked when they applied for a job on a farm.

There's more at the link.  Informative and recommended reading.

I can see both sides of the problem, but my perspective is colored by experience in the Third World.  Let's face it:  animal welfare is basically a First World concern.  Outside Western Europe, the USA and Canada, there's very little concern about animal welfare and how farmers treat their food animals.  They're seen as there to be exploited, bred for food at the lowest possible production cost and killed as soon as it's profitable to do so.  In the process they're grazed on over-exploited land, leading to soil erosion and desertification;  they're not treated for common diseases;  they often have no shelter against the elements, and when they do, it's usually overcrowded;  and they're badly treated by human owners and handlers.  In tribal societies, it's often the number of animals owned that determines wealth or confers status.  That leads to very large quantities of poorly fed, poor-condition, pretty miserable animals, rather than a smaller herd of better-fed, more healthy, happier creatures.

Here in the USA, pressure groups have the luxury of being able to argue for better treatment of animals.  I can't disagree.  From my perspective as a retired pastor, when humanity was given "dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth", that includes the implicit responsibility to treat those creatures with as much respect as possible.  'Dominion' is not a license to be cruel.  I believe that, just as deliberate cruelty to animals is (and should be, IMHO) harshly punished, so negligent or neglectful treatment of animals should be forbidden, and punished when it's encountered.

However, farmers also have a point when they protest that they can't afford to raise animals according to standards currently considered 'humane'.  Let's face it:  consumers are generally not prepared to pay the higher prices that would be required to compensate farmers for the additional costs involved.  The farmers, quite reasonably, ask, "Well, if consumers won't pay enough, who is going to pay?"  So far, animal welfare groups haven't been able to come up with a satisfactory or practical answer to that question.  Government subsidies aren't the answer, IMHO - that just means that all taxpayers are on the hook for the costs involved, whether or not they buy the meat or other products of the animals involved.

There's also the question of what, precisely, constitutes 'cruelty'.  I think many humane societies and animal welfare groups lose sight of the fact that in nature, an animal's life has only a few possible endings, and all of them are just plain nasty.  The critter will grow old and weak.  That means it'll be more susceptible to injury, crippling it and preventing it from feeding, so that it starves to death;  or it'll be easier prey for predators.  Either way, it's most likely going to end up being eaten.  There are no happy endings to life in nature.  There are a large number of videos on YouTube showing predators eating living prey, biting great chunks off it while it's still alive.  Welcome to Nature, folks - 'red in tooth and claw', indeed!  Compared to that, most domestic and farm animals have a much easier life, even when treated relatively poorly by the standards of animal welfare pressure groups.

Finally, there's the reality that some animal welfare pressure groups are deliberately doing everything they can to make it impossibly expensive to raise animals for food purposes.  They want the world to be vegetarian, and this is one way they think they can achieve that.  I've got no time for such dishonesty.  If they can't persuade people to become vegetarians on the merits of that diet alone, they've got no right to try and force us to change willy-nilly.  (They don't see it that way, of course.  It's amazing how unethical and immoral pressure groups can be in support of their cause[s].  'The end justifies the means' is, sadly, a very common philosophy among them.)

I don't have answers for these conundrums (conundrii?).  All I know is, I enjoy eating meat, and I'm not about to stop.  I'll gladly pay a higher price for ethically raised and humanely slaughtered meat, but I can afford to.  I have every sympathy for those who can't.  What to do?  Your guess is as good as mine.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The "laws of war"? Don't make me laugh

I found an article in the Sydney Morning Herald to be quasi-nauseating.

The survey of 17,000 people in 16 countries, published by the International Committee of the Red Cross on Monday, found that while most people still believe war should have rules, faith in the Geneva Convention is fading and there is growing acceptance of torture and civilian casualties.

It is prompting the Red Cross, the respected organisation that works in the world's most dangerous places, to call for a renewed effort to promote the virtues of rules in warfare.

"We were heartened by the fact the majority [of people] globally still believe the laws of war matter," said Helen Durham, the Red Cross's director of law and policy.

"But it does disturb us when you drill down into the statistics you … see some more cynicism and the sense that it's pretty tough out there and so we might have to do things we're not comfortable with."

. . .

Globally, the proportion of people who think the Geneva Convention makes any difference has fallen from 52 per cent in 1999 to 38 per cent today. The proportion who believe it is wrong to carrying out military operations knowing there will be significant civilian casualties fell from 68 per cent to 59 per cent.

The survey conspicuously revealed that a cavalier attitude towards the laws of war are more prevalent in peaceful countries than those beset by conflict. Often those who championed laws in war most firmly were militaries themselves, Dr Durham said.

There's more at the link.

Let's face it:  outside the major powers, the so-called 'laws of war' are honored far more in the breach than in the observance.  Basically, they're a joke.  In almost any Third World war you care to mention, they're disregarded almost entirely.  As for so-called 'liberation movements' or 'terrorists' (pick whichever word applies according to your political perspective), they don't know the meaning of such 'rules' and wouldn't be interested if they did.  They operate on the principle that terrorizing people means they'll obey.  If you don't terrorize them, they won't.

Human rights as a whole have a dismal record in the Third World.  Armed conflict merely worsens the situation.  To take just one example, why do you think Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds, possibly thousands of Nigerian schoolgirls?  Because their fighters wanted women, and couldn't get them any other way.  They kidnapped them with the express intention of turning them into, first sex slaves, then their wives (whether they wanted to get married or not).  Now the survivors of those girls - some already mothers, others pregnant - are finding that even their rescuers regard them as 'whores' and 'collaborators'.  Some have even been raped by the troops that rescued them, because that's all they're good for now, in terms of the so-called 'culture' of the area.  To put it as bluntly and as honestly as possible (I apologize if this offends some readers, but the truth often does), in typical West African society, these girls no longer have any status or value as human beings, except for what's between their legs.  That's all they're considered to be good for.  No amount of protesting, or diplomatic intervention, or messages on Twitter, will change that.

I could cite many more examples, including several from my own experience (such as this one).  I won't bother, because it isn't worth it.  Just take my word for it:  human rights and the so-called 'laws of war' are honored more in the breach than in the observance across most of the world.   First World militaries aren't much better.  Go look up how many civilians have been killed in the so-called 'War On Terror'.  Their number far exceeds the number of terrorists killed, and the number of First World troops, too - but they're all considered to be 'collateral damage'.  Their lives don't count.  The 'laws of war' did damn-all to protect them;  in fact, they tacitly permitted and tolerated their deaths by casting a pallor of legality over them.  They've done that for years.  Even gross violations of the 'laws of war' such as My Lai, or countless failures by UN peacekeepers to protect those entrusted to their care, haven't done anything to change that reality . . . because most people don't care.  It's too far away from them to worry them.  Out of sight, out of mind.

War has no laws.  It only has agreements between opponents willing to make them . . . and only for for as long as it suits them.  Anyone who believes otherwise is way out there in cloud cuckoo land.


Slip slidin' away . . .

I now live in northern Texas, where we're currently experiencing our coldest temperatures of the 2016/17 winter thus far.  It's down to all of 42°F outside.  I know, you folks in the snow-and-ice belt are unspeakably sorry for us about that . . .

Nevertheless, I did feel sorry for the good people of Montreal, Canada, who were caught up in this.  Watch the video in full-screen mode for best results.

I'm sure the nice policeman was less than amused at becoming part of the problem, rather than the solution . . .


Er . . . oops?

It seems a Russian S-300 long-range anti-aircraft missile had a slight . . . er . . . problem on launch the other day.  Its tube fired it right out, but the main rocket motor failed to ignite.  That's when it showed the real problem with a vertical-launch system . . . namely, that what goes up must come down.  Watch in full-screen mode for best results.

I hope there weren't any operators in the launch vehicle at the time!

This also illustrates the difference between 'cold' and 'hot' launch methods.  The Russian technique is to 'blow' the missile out of its vertical launch tube by means of an auxiliary system, usually compressed air.  The missile's motor fires only after ejection.  This is known as a 'cold launch' system.  It has the advantage that, if the main rocket motor fails to fire, it can eject the missile anyway;  but if the missile tube is pointed straight up, you get the result seen above.  The USA uses a 'hot launch' system, where the missile's own motor fires inside the tube and shoots it out.  If the motor fails, the missile doesn't launch at all.  This forces a labor- and time-intensive extraction procedure afterwards, but at least the missile can't fall back on its launcher!


Monday, December 5, 2016

A late evening takeoff, with flames

Here's a good video of an Indian Navy MiG-29K naval fighter taking off from INS Vikramaditya, late in the evening.  The plumes of flame from the aircraft's afterburners stand out to good effect.

I note that the plane takes off without heavy underwing gas tanks or ordnance.  I wonder what its weight limitations are when using the ski-jump, as opposed to a runway or catapult takeoff?


If you like honey, you're going to LOVE this!

A long-time online acquaintance recently began his own business - Killer Bees Honey.  Here's how he describes it.

... my wife and I migrated through the urban landscapes of Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago before settling at the summit of a mountain in the Smokies.

Except for the constant hum of millions of hard-working bees, we enjoy a quiet life. We gladly share our woods with wild turkey, deer, coyote, fox, bobcat and a noisy pileated woodpecker. Black bears occasion by. That’s when our Killer Bees put their inner scutellata to good use.

Our Killer Bees have a fascinating and varied genealogy. I wish I could translate the Queens' ancient humming and eavesdrop on the stories passed from hive to hive. Sadly, I am as deaf to their song as I was to the Yiddish curses that colored my mother’s speech when I was young.

There's more at the link.  They take great pride in their wholly natural honey, gathered from natural forest lands untainted by pesticides or fertilizers.  (Of course, living in the wild as they do, there are other hazards after their honey . . . four-legged ones!)

If this sounds like an advertisement, I suppose in a way it is - but I'm not being compensated for it in any shape or form.  As I said, the owner's a long-standing online buddy, so I want to help him get established.  What are friends for, if not to help other friends?

When I heard about his new business - his Web site went live just last week - I went to his online shop and ordered a bunch of his products, partly to support a friend, partly because Miss D. and I really like good honey.  (Yes, I paid for all of them with my own money.)  The box arrived this morning, and . . . oh, my.  Oh, my, my.  Their Wildflower and Sourwood Big Red honeys are very nice indeed, but their Sourwood Amber honey is to die for!  It's probably the tastiest bottle of honey I've ever opened.  I couldn't help a moan of pleasure as I sampled it.  I think I've found a new favorite.  I also ordered the Citrus Holiday Gift Basket, with assorted skin care products containing honey.  The smells are wonderful, and we're looking forward to sampling them with our next bath or shower.

Finally, I couldn't resist getting one of these for Miss D.  Somehow, I suspect she won't be wearing it to work!

If you're looking for some really good honey and related products, I highly recommend Killer Bees Honey - and, no, they won't give me any free product for recommending them, so relax, FTC!  I'm just glad to help a friend.


I think I'm in the wrong line of business

Would you pay $1,000+ for a Christmas tree?  It seems that, in New York City, some would.

Longtime Greenwich Village tree seller Heather Neville said Sunday that her tallest — and priciest — offering will command an astonishing $77 per foot from any buyer who can’t haul it home.

“This 13-foot tree — a beautiful fir — is $750, and with delivery, installation with a stand and tip would be $1,000,” said Neville, who bills herself as the NYC Tree Lady.

Neville, 40, broke down the add-ons as $200 for the stand, $25 for delivery and setup and $20 each to the three or four men needed for the job.

. . .

Neville, who runs five other spots across Manhattan, gets all her holiday greenery from a secret source she identified only as “The Farmer.” She priced a hypothetical 15-footer at a whopping $1,200, including delivery and setup.

So far, her best sale was a 13-foot Nordmann fir that went for a relatively paltry $500 “a few days ago,” she said.

. . .

East Village residents Adrian Chrzan and Jacquelyn Mitchell, both 30, were spotted lugging home a 5-foot Fraser fir they bought for $100, stand included.

“I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a white fir and any other tree,” said Mitchell, who works in finance. “They all look the same to me, so I’m just going to look for the best deal.”

Chrzan, an investment manager, took the critique a step further: “We are from Connecticut and you can get a tree this size [there] for 20 bucks.”

There's more at the link.

If ever you wanted a clue as to the insane cost of living in NYC, that's it, right there!  $77 per foot for a Christmas tree?  Verily, the mind doth boggle . . . and the wallet, too!

If I lived in New York City, I'd be taking a drive out to upstate New York, or north-eastern Pennsylvania, or perhaps Connecticut, where trees are plentiful.  I'd buy two or three at local prices ($20 is still high by my standards, but I guess trees are cheaper further south), tie them to the roof of my car or put them on a utility trailer, and cart them all back to NYC.  I'd use one myself, and sell the other two to neighbors and friends at two to three times what I paid for them.  They'd save money, I'd pay for my trip, and everyone would be happy!


'Stoke The Flames Higher' is published!

EDITED TO ADD:  The formatting issue that some readers complained about has been resolved.  If you downloaded an early copy, and found that your text had a shaded background, you can reload the new version to take care of that.  See instructions at the foot of this post.  Thanks!

My latest novel, 'Stoke The Flames Higher', fifth in the military science fiction Maxwell Saga, is now available in e-book format on  It'll be available in print and audiobook formats in the new year.

From the blurb:

Two planets, torn apart by the same fanatics - and Lancastrian forces are caught in the middle!

Major Brooks Shelby must keep the peace, on a world where radical terrorists want submission or death. Lieutenant-Commander Steve Maxwell must trace the source of their fighters and funding, deal with diplomats, and fend off a nosy journalist.

The marines are up against smuggled explosives and suicidal martyrs, while a suborned bureaucracy stymies the investigation. Brooks and Steve must find a way to stop their enemies at all costs, before the fanatics unleash their own version of Armageddon!

In case you missed it, you can find a teaser excerpt from it here.

Thanks very much for your patience.  I had to endure fifteen months of health troubles, including three surgical procedures, before I could finish this book.  It was no fun at all . . . but, please God, those troubles are behind me now.  I've got big plans for next year, and I hope I'll be able to meet your expectations and more.

Please, PLEASE, when you've read this book, leave a review on!  It's very important to an independent author like myself to build up his review count.  It's one of the most important factors in how Amazon ranks products, and, therefore, in how it recommends them to customers searching for a particular theme or in a particular genre of books.  I'm not trying to solicit all 5-star reviews, you understand (although I'm very grateful that so many of you leave them).  Be honest in your review, by all means;  but please leave one.  An independent author relies super-heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations such as reviews.  They, in turn, drive Amazon's ranking of our books.  Your review can mean either meat and potatoes on our plates, or bread and water!

I'd also be grateful for your feedback here, in comments on this blog, or by e-mail (see my blog profile for the address).  I try very hard to make each of my books 'stand-alone', not needing to have read the whole series to understand it, with plots that are interesting and gripping.  I don't want to fall into the trap of merely repeating a formula.  Your feedback helps me avoid that, and assists in keeping my books fresh.

Thank you!


EDITED TO ADD:  To automatically refresh this (or any other) Kindle e-book with the latest version:
  1. Open in its own Web browser page or tab.
  2. Go to 'Your Account'.
  3. Click on 'Manage Your Content And Devices'.
  4. Go to 'Settings'.
  5. Scroll down to the setting 'Automatic Book Update (Whispersync for Books)'.  Make sure that it's set to ON.
That's it.  Your old version should automatically be replaced by the new one.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Freedom makes progress in Europe

So, it looks as if the right-wing (i.e. anti-European Union) candidate in the Austrian presidential elections lost (narrowly), but Italian voters have rejected an attempt to align that country more closely with EU-preferred political structures.  This may lead to economic crisis, and even Italy's withdrawal from the euro.

I can't say I'm too worried at the prospect.  Most of those forecasting doom and gloom if more conservative, anti-globalist, pro-nationalist candidates win more elections in more countries, are coming from a world view that regards increasing unity - leading to a 'one world' government - as desirable.  I'm on the other side of the fence.  I believe that individual rights, freedoms and liberties are antithetic to collectivism.  I'm all in favor of political movements that see the individual as more important than the state;  who value and encourage and support entrepreneurism and individual effort, rather than socialism and group-think.

Austria didn't quite get there today, but the country came a lot closer than it ever has before.  I suspect, if that opinion change continues, it won't be long before its government changes hands.  Italy is now set fair for a regime change, since Prime Minister Renzi has promised to resign if he loses the referendum.  What will replace him is unclear . . . but I doubt very much whether it will be any worse.

Now we look to the ongoing saga of Brexit, where globalists and collectivists are doing everything they can to sabotage the will of the British people, as expressed in a referendum to withdraw from the EU.  France is likely to see a significant swing to more conservative, right-wing, nationalist candidates in the coming year.  As for Germany . . . collectivist Merkel has allowed over a million so-called 'refugees' to invade her country.  The consequences for Germans have been almost uniformly unpleasant - some of them have been horrific.  Will the German electorate punish her and her party?  That remains to be seen . . . but one may hope.

President Trump may soon have more like-minded leaders in Europe to work with than he'd expected.


A Russian attack helicopter goes to sea

Here's an interesting look at Russia's Kamov Ka-52 attack helicopter.  It's been adapted for service aboard ships, including the two Mistral class assault vessels that were to have been purchased from France.  (Both ships have now been sold to Egypt, which will reportedly buy Ka-52's for use aboard them.)

The US AH-64 Apache and AH-1Z Viper were both designed as land-based aircraft, although both have been adapted to shipboard use (particularly the latter, which serves aboard US Navy landing ships that carry US Marines).  It's interesting to see a Russian attack helicopter in a shipboard environment as well.  I wonder if it'll be adapted to the anti-submarine warfare role as well, or remain a 'pure' attack helicopter?  The USA and Britain have chosen to go a different route, using specialized ASW helicopters.


A teaser combat scene to whet your appetite

Here's a teaser excerpt from my new book, 'Stoke The Flames Higher', Volume 5 of the Maxwell Saga.

It'll be published within a day or two, as soon as Amazon's systems can process it.  I hope this whets your appetite to read the whole thing!


Senior Lieutenant Watson looked at the Plot display. The four small, wavering gravitic drive signatures were growing stronger as they approached. They were still moving at only one-tenth of light speed. Lieutenant-Commander Maxwell had provided performance data for the Devakai ships, suggesting they could move at twice that velocity if they had to – much less than the one-third Cee capability of his modern Serpent class vessel, but about right for century-old patrol craft from a galactic backwater. For a moment, he frowned, wondering why they weren’t using all their performance… then he relaxed. Their antiquated sensors and fire control systems probably couldn’t handle relativistic motion and Lorentz transformation very well. Both were inevitable complications when moving at significant fractions of light speed. That would explain their slower approach.

A light came on above his comm handset, indicating a call on the squadron tight-beam laser network. He picked it up, put it to his ear, and waited as a series of clicks indicated other Commanding Officers coming online.

“Squadron Commander to all ships. The enemy vessels are now at seven million kilometers’ range. They’re old and antiquated, with inferior weapons, so I think four of us can handle them. The other two can tackle the small craft that are spreading out, trying to get past us. Copperhead, take Rinkhals under your control and use your active sensors to intercept and destroy as many of them as you can. Use your defensive laser clusters only – a small craft isn’t worth the cost of a main battery missile. Boa, Mamba and Python, stand by to take firing directions from my ship. We’ll fire together when the enemy ships reach five million kilometers’ range. Their own missiles have an effective powered range of only two million kilometers, so we should be able to destroy them all before they can return fire. Acknowledge in sequence. Over.”

He clicked on his microphone when his turn came. “Copperhead to Squadron Commander, acknowledged. Question, please, sir. What if the small craft try to surrender? Over.”

“Squadron Commander to Copperhead. If they shut down their drives and activate their locator beacons at once, accept their surrender. If there’s any delay, or any refusal to cooperate, destroy them immediately. Over.”

“Copperhead to Squadron Commander, understood, over.”

He waited while the other ships acknowledged their orders, then spoke again. “Copperhead to Rinkhals. You take the port side and above. I’ll take the starboard side and below. Let’s go. Over.”

“Rinkhals to Copperhead, understand port and above, aye aye. Sheering off now. Over.”

“Copperhead to Rinkhals, good hunting. Out.”

He put down the handset, looking across the Operations Centre. “Command to EW, start looking for targets. Focus our active arrays downward and to starboard, and let’s see who’s coming to dinner.” A nervous chuckle ran around the OpCen.

Three icons popped up on the short-range Plot display almost immediately. He designated them Alpha, Bravo and Charlie, and turned his ship towards the closest. It was emitting no signature of any kind, but from its apparent size, it was either an assault shuttle or a cutter.

“Command to Communications, call on target Alpha to surrender, using the standard interplanetary distress frequency.”

“Communications to Command, aye aye, sir.”

Three times they called, and three times were met with silence. Finally he called, “Command to Weapons. Weapons free on target Alpha.”

“Weapons to Command, weapons free on Alpha, aye aye, sir.”

There was a momentary pause, then a slight dimming of the lights in the OpCen as one of the ship’s four laser clusters fired. From only fifty thousand kilometers away, its powerful beam sliced through the target like a hot knife through butter. There was a distant explosion as the small vessel’s fusion micro-reactor exploded, wiping it out and killing everyone aboard in a blaze of thermonuclear plasma. Its icon in the Plot fuzzed into a starburst, then faded.

“Command to Weapons, good shooting. Break. Command to Communications, make a general call to all Kotai vessels in the vicinity, demanding their surrender. Tell them to activate their beacons and cut their drives. If they don’t, there will be no more second chances. From now on, if we see a non-complying target, we’ll shoot at it without warning.”

The call went out, repeated three times, but again with no response.

“Very well, Command to Weapons, weapons free on all targets within range. Plot, designate new targets as EW acquires them. It’s open season and there’s no bag limit.”

“EW to Command, our ships have fired, sir!” Ensign White’s voice was excited.

“Command to Plot, change to long range display. Let’s watch this.”

“Plot to Command, long range, aye aye, sir.”

Everyone in the OpCen craned to see the missile traces reaching out from the four Serpent class ships towards the four Athi vessels. It looked as if Commander Belknap had allocated only ten missiles to each of them, reserving half his ships’ warloads against possible future need.

Suddenly White shouted, almost screaming, “Active sensor emissions sir! It’s –”

The Plot suddenly showed two new icons, no more than half a million kilometers ahead of and below the four Commonwealth vessels, and well ahead of the four at which they were shooting. Almost instantly, missile traces appeared above the new vessels, racing upward towards the underbellies of Copperhead’s squadron-mates.

“It’s a trap!” Watson exclaimed aloud, forgetting OpCen procedure. “Those four targets must be drones! We concentrated on them like fat, happy dumbasses, while they sneaked in below them – and now they’ve fired at point-blank range!”

The enemy missiles were more than halfway to their targets before more traces of missile fire began to appear above the Commonwealth patrol craft – and that was itself an indicator of the problem. The vessels had not had time to change their orientation. The main battery missiles they were firing at the enemy patrol craft, and the defensive missiles aimed at their incoming weapons, were all ejected upward from their launch tubes by mass drivers. Once fired, they had to coast until they were clear of the ship’s gravitic drive field. Only then could they activate their own drives, turn around, and aim downward towards their targets. That took time
… time they did not have, at such desperately short range. Defense would be up to the laser clusters.

Even as Watson realized that, he saw the flickers in the Plot indicating high-energy discharges from the four patrol craft. They were firing their lasers downward at the incoming missiles, but only two of each ship’s four laser clusters were on the underside. The two topside could not bear on the enemy’s weapons. He saw the gravitic drive signatures of each patrol craft begin to spool up as they tried to turn onto their sides, so that all four laser clusters could be brought into action… but it was too late. They would hit some of the enemy missiles, but the rest were almost upon them.

Watson realized, with a sick sensation in his stomach, that it was an almost perfect ambush, launched from the spacefaring equivalent of knife-fighting range. The Kotai had planned and executed it to perfection. He suddenly grasped how smugly parochial, how baselessly superior, had been his own attitude and that of the rest of the Lancastrian squadron. They’d assumed they were facing primitive religious fanatics. Commander Belknap had spoken of the Kotai as ‘barbs’ – barbarians. Others had used similarly contemptuous terms… but those ‘barbs’ had gravitic drives and nuclear weapons, and they had brains. No matter how outdated their ships, their tactics were as effective as anything he or his fellow Commanding Officers could have devised. Indeed, they were even more effective, because the Lancastrian Commonwealth Fleet would hesitate to accept certain death in order to injure the enemy. The Kotai would make the exchange gladly, provided they could take enough of their foes with them. You couldn’t deter someone ready, willing and eager to die.

You'll be able to read how that space fight turned out - and a number of others - within a day or two.