Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Space Review

The most recent three issues of The Space Review have a couple of articles of interest.

From the March 15, 2010 issue: Jeff Foust looks at the 2011 NASA budget, the "gap" and the Shuttle. Taylor Dinerman looks at Mike Griffin, "Apollo on steroids" and "America's Soyuz". Doesn't really matter at this point, does it? Michael Huang looks at the significance of the date picked for the "space summit". Are we reading too many tea leaves? And Jeff Foust rounds out the week by reviewing a book by one of the ISS space tourists, Anousheh Ansari.

From the March 22, 2010 issue: Jeff Foust looks at the battle "commercial space" will have in convincing a skeptical Congress (just throw money at them, that usually works). Looks like something out of James Bond! Air-launched sortie vehicles, Part 3 (Part 1 here. Part 2 here.). Taylor Dinerman ponders ice on the Moon and how the control of it will be critical for any space-faring civilization.

From the March 29, 2010 issue: Edward Ellegood on the April 15 space summit. Bob Mahoney tries to determine what the new NASA "program" will be. (Mostly circling the Earth, alas.) Andrew Weston looks at the United Kingdom's new space agency. (Now if they only had a space programme.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Space Review

A few items of interest in the current issue of The Space Review. Jeff Foust looks at NASA's efforts to explain their "new direction" (not doing it too well, in my opinion). Taylor Dinerman looks at how this changes (and cancellations) work against international efforts. Luis Fernandez Carril looks at the 2011 NASA budget. Hope for the future? Finally, Claude Lafleur looks at the cost of piloted space programs in the US. An interesting breakdown, but might want to look at the comments as well. For example, what would costs been if we continued with the Saturn V?
Racing Valdemort

I am re-reading the Harry Potter series (previous review here). I got The Young Lady interested (she had read the first one between second grade and third grade, but lost interest in the second book); she had asked to see the movies, and partway through our viewing of the film series, I started re-reading the books. We are not "racing" through the series, commenting on various parts and such.

Re-read so far: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.

Update: And now my wife is re-reading the series, starting with the first book. So other than members of the household without hands (dogs, fish, birds), we are all in various parts of the series.

FTC Disclaimer: All books purchased by me, over the course of many years.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

By Special Request of the Colonel (Part Deux)

Following up on the world's largest snippet we have the second installment of the forthcoming The Amazon Legion!

* * * * *


Gloria Santiago sat miserable and alone on the front steps to the barracks. Other soldiers passed without speaking. The last of her “friends” had been downchecked by the rest of the platoon on a peer evaluation the day before. That woman was already on her way to a non-combat training unit.

Gloria’s eyes were bloodshot, her body sore and bruised. Her once fair skin was dry and scratched. Worst of all, her spirit was very nearly broken.

I just don’t understand it, Santiago thought. This world is so different, so strange. And I’m no good at any of it. Even those damned little bitches Trujillo and Fuentes can beat me up. It’s so unfair...nothing ever prepared me for this.

Santiago stood up and began walking away from the barracks to the nearby woods. She wanted to be alone in fact as well as spirit.

From a hundred meters away Corporal Salazar saw her slinking, spiritless walk. He began to follow her to the woods.

Chapter Six

May all our citizens be soldiers, and all our soldiers citizens.
—Sarah Livingston Jay


They couldn’t give it to us; it had to come from inside; inside ourselves.

I can’t speak for everybody; not for all the Amazonas. I can only tell you what I felt; what happened to me.

You remember how Centurion Garcia had made a bunch of us “pregnant,” making the rest of us carry their gear. Well that was imposed; we hated him every step of the way. And most of us, by this stage in our training would almost rather drop down dead than “get knocked up.” Certainly we wouldn’t ask to see the medics over little discomforts, as we might have if some other women hadn’t had to carry our load for us if we did.

I wonder, though, if we’d have been so reluctant if there had been some young men around to carry our gear for us. It’s just possible they wouldn’t even have minded, stupid boys. I sometimes think that men are overgrown babies whose spoiling of us often keeps us from quite growing up ourselves.

Or maybe we keep each other from ever quite growing up.

One impossibly late night after another impossibly long day I went to bed (not a real bed, of course, just my tacky air mattress under a strung out poncho). I was feeling a little poorly, nothing definite, just a general feeling of inner rottenness. But by morning I really was sick: dizzy, throwing up, a fever, too. I still don't know what it was that got me, influenza, bug bite, or reaming rod of randomness.

Unfortunately, we had another road march—heavy packs—scheduled for that morning. To add injury to insult, Ihad to carry the machine gun. I couldn’t; I just couldn’t.

The cadre had been dropping girls right and left of late. Less than half of those who had started were still with us. The rest were, like me, pretty much at their limit.

Curiously, again like me, it had also become extremely important to all but a tiny number of those remaining to complete training. Whatever it was: unwillingness to go home as failures, a real need for the benefits that went with service, some stirrings of pride in being soldiers, I don’t know.

In my case I had to finish training...for Alma’s sake.

I think Marta noticed me first, throwing up outside the perimeter. She came up and asked me, gently, what was wrong. I threw up again and started to cry for Alma; and for the life I’d hoped to build for us. I knew I’d never make the march. I’d be a failure. And they’d boot me out.

She held me a minute or two, kissed my forehead. She told me it would be all right. Then she took my machine gun, throwing it up on her shoulder with a grunt. In a few minutes Inez Trujillo came up, she and the rest of the squad. With hardly a word they took my pack apart; splitting up my gear among them. They hung the empty pack on my back. Trujillo told two of the girls—Isabel and Catarina—to help me. They got on either side of me and put my arms over their shoulders.

If Garcia even noticed or cared he never let on. He just called us to attention, gave us a “left face,” took his position at the front, and ordered us to march.

The first few miles were bad, but I still had a little strength in me; just enough to keep going. The next nine or ten miles were worse, because I didn’t have that strength left by then, but I couldn’t drop out after having let the other girls put themselves through hell having to carry me for the first few miles. Funny thing, pride, no?

I don't like to think about that march too often. It was bad. Half the time I was nearly delirious. Most of the rest I was puking. The girls helping me didn’t say a bad word even when I threw up right on them, though the stench made them start to gag, too.

Now you might say those women did nothing special; that if they hadn’t taken my gear willingly, Garcia would have made them. That’s true, they had to carry my equipment if I couldn’t.

But they didn’t have to carry me. That they did on their own.

It’s hard not to love a group like that.


There was a funny upshot of that incident. Without a word of explanation Garcia had us turn in those miserable poles, the “pricks,” the next day. They were carried away on a truck. He never reissued them. We never gave him cause to.

Fortunately, we spent the next four days in the same general area, learning how to conduct raid, ambush and reconnaissance patrols. We did make some cross-country moves, but they were fairly short moves; without heavy packs.

Mostly, they left me behind to help secure the Objective Rally Point, or ORP. That’s the last position where your patrol—usually squad or platoon sized—stops, short of the actual place where you set up the ambush or do the recon or raid.

If I hadn’t been sick, it might have been fun. I know most of the other girls thought it was. Though, by then, they would probably have to be considered a little weird. Being in the ORP wasn’t so bad. Still, I was usually alone.

Actually, I hoped I was alone. There was always the chance of a snake showing up to keep me company. I hate snakes. And the antaniae? The moonbats? I am frankly scared to death of them. The thought of one crawling into my sleeping roll with me is enough to pull me to my feet, shivering, no matter how tired I am. As soon as I was remotely able to keep up I insisted that I not be left behind in the ORP anymore. If the other girls thought that was because I was tough, I did nothing to disabuse them of the notion.


It was early one morning, following a less than fully successful ambush and while we waited for chow, that I cornered Trujillo. The others, especially Marta, Cat and Isabel, I’d already expressed my gratitude to.

“Inez...thank you,” was all I said.

She just shook her head, as if she didn’t quite understand.

“For carrying me. For getting the others to carry me.” I looked down at the ground, ashamed, actually.

“Wouldn’t you have done the same for us?”

I don't know if I would have before, I really don’t. But I nodded, as if I was certain I would have.

“So what’s to thank? We’re in this together. We help each other.”

The subject was a little uncomfortable. I changed it. “Why are you here, Inez? I mean...I joined to try to build a better life for myself and my daughter. But why did you join?”

“I thought it was the right thing to do,” was all she said.

“There was a man,” I reminded her, “back when we first got on the hovercraft to come here. He was something special to you? A boyfriend? A lover?”

She looked confused for a minute, then started to laugh. “Lover? Ricardo is my brother! He’s in Third Tercio. He’s probably at Centurion School now.”

“Are you going to try for that? Centurion, I mean.”

“I’ll take what they offer me, if they offer me anything,” she answered.

“They will. You’re different from the rest of us, different from me, for example.”

“Maria,” she said, with a subtle smile, “do you think we carried you and your gear because we thought you were worthless?”

I really didn’t know what to say to that.


Somewhere nearby artillery was falling and exploding. Garcia paid it no mind, though it made the rest of us pretty nervous.

He said, “Many armies spend an inordinate effort, I understand, on limiting the effects of friendly fire. We don’t spend much. We’re soldiers. We’re there to be killed if the country needed us to be killed. We’re there to win, even if doing so gets us killed.

“You might not expect it to be true, but it is true, that the infantry only inflicts twenty or thirty percent of all casualties in battle. We take, on the other hand, about ninety percent of the casualties. Who kills us? The enemy artillery. Who among us does the killing? The machine guns. What kills or suppresses the machine gunners? Your own artillery.”

Garcia pulled a tetradrachma coin from his pocket and flipped it to illustrate. “Now you have a choice. You can stay so far behind your own supporting artillery that there is no chance of any of your own being hit by it. If you do, the enemy machine gunners will be up and firing when you attack. Two years into the Great Global War, there was an attack. Twenty-five thousand Anglians were killed, as many more wounded, on the first day alone, by a few dozen machine gunners that hadn’t been suppressed or destroyed by the Anglian artillery.”

He flipped the coin again. “On the other hand, you can follow your own artillery so closely that you take some losses in dead and wounded from your own side. Quality control at the factory—or lack thereof—ensures that if you follow a barrage closely, some shells will fall short among your own troops. But then, you can be on top of the machine guns, shooting, stabbing, hacking and blasting before they have a chance to mow your people down.”

His face took on a somber, serious cast. “How sad for those killed by their own side’s artillery.” The frown disappeared, replaced by a rare and ghastly grin. “How grand, however, for those likely much larger numbers not killed by the enemy machine guns. And the dead don’t really care what killed them.

“We go in for the second approach, taking losses to ‘friendly fire’ somewhat more philosophically than the world norm. It takes a lot of discipline, though, and that means a lot of training. Some of that can be inferential training, general discipline building. It’s better, though, if the training is a little more direct and pointed. Move out.”


I was scared to death. Garcia wasn’t just flapping his gums about following a barrage closely. He wanted us to do it.

“Madre de Dios! Did you see that?” Marta stopped short, slack-jawed, to see a woman sail about fifteen feet into the air, arms and legs fluttering. The woman landed, stunned, it appeared, but otherwise fairly whole, a few meters from where a delay-fused shell had gone off not too far from under her feet. The woman was lucky the shell had missed her head before burying itself in the ground.

“Don’t think about it,” Cristina Zamora shouted. “Just keep marching forward. Forward!” Zamora was acting platoon centurion for the exercise.

About seventy-five meters ahead of where Marta and I stood, a wall of flying dirt moved relentlessly up a steep hill. They were firing delay fuses, but that was the only safety measure I could see, that kicked up a visually impressive amount of dirt and rocks with each burst.

We resumed walking forward, firing short bursts either from the hip or, shoulder held, aiming with the F- and M-26’s neat little integral optical sight. Look, anything you can throw at the enemy to keep his head down is worth the effort. Besides, walking is a lot faster and less exhausting than doing little three second rushes. In battle, an exhausted Amazona is a fear-filled and useless Amazona.

As we neared the top of the hill, the shell fire shifted a last time and redoubled in intensity. Zamora spoke into a radio, then shouted, “Wait for it!”

The delay fused high explosive was replaced by a dozen rounds of white phosphorus. A cloud of smoke enveloped the hilltop.

Adelante las Amazonas!” We charged, screaming and firing all the way.


For whatever reasons, and each of us probably had her own, we did develop something like esprit de corps. Or, rather, most of us did. A few couldn’t. Life for them became very hard, because, as the overwhelming bulk of us still remaining bonded together, the others were left out in the cold. Some were encouraged into the group by that. Others just shut down before being washed out.

Probably no one suffered more from this than Gloria. I guess she was so used to being the center of attention that she just couldn’t take being cut out. Cut out, however, she certainly was. Oh, she tried to pretend that she felt what we felt. I’ll tell you something, though; we women are much better judges of character than men are. Gloria fooled no one.

She took to hanging around one of the Corporal-Instructors, Corporal Salazar. Salazar’s partner, Sergeant Castro, noticed, eventually. I remember a screaming match that ended only when Centurion Franco knocked them both silly.

It was about that time that Gloria stopped being put on shit detail.

I guess Salazar wasn’t entirely gay. Eventually, he and Gloria were caught engaged in...shall we indiscretion. Maybe the worst part is that Castro’s the one who caught them. Maybe, if Castro hadn’t been so upset, he might have kept it to himself. He was a good man, ordinarily, a lot kinder than most.

Some of us were selected to sit in on the courts-martial, just to witness, not to sit the board. Salazar just sat, mute. Gloria kept begging for the chance to resign. It was too late. Castro wept a lot, as quietly as he could. I felt sorry for him.

The two were each charged with mutiny and aggravated fraternization. Salazar was further charged with aggravated abuse of office (improper sexual relations) and adultery; Gloria with conduct tending to contribute to the demoralization of the Legion and adultery. (Did I mention that the partnerships in Gorgidas were treated as legal marriages in the Legion?)

The evidence was pretty damned overwhelming. Castro had seen them. There was some semen from Salazar on Gloria’s uniform. It had obviously not been rape, though Gloria tried to claim it had been. I think what ruined that defense is that Gloria still had her teeth and, under the particular circumstances, could have been expected to use them to considerable effect, had it really been rape or, more technically, forcible sodomy. Besides, we were supposed to be real soldiers, ready to fight and die. How could one of us hope to claim rape if she’d been conscious but hadn’t fought to death or, at least, incapacitation or been physically overwhelmed by sheer brute force? What was true of civilian women could never really be true for us.

Mutiny? When two or more soldiers combine to suborn good order and discipline in the armed forces, that is mutiny. Salazar and Gloria made two. They were certainly...ah...combined, at the time. The predictable effect of sexual relations between people of substantially different ranks is to suborn good order and discipline. We are responsible for the predictable effects of our actions just as if we intended them. There was no evidence put on that Salazar or Gloria had any defensible reason to believe this would not be the effect if discovered, nor that they would not be discovered (though disbelief in discovery was no defense anyway). So: Mutiny.

The penalty is death. As a matter of fact, failure to report or suppress a mutiny by any means—including summary execution—is also punished by death. I guess poor Castro didn’t have a lot of choice. If he’d shot them both on the spot he’d probably have been commended.

Unfortunately, he didn’t. When the verdicts and sentence came back they were, “Guilty on all counts” and “Death by Musketry,” respectively. It took less than twenty-four hours for Carrera to confirm the sentences. There was no appeal, certainly not to an ignorant civil court. The President of the Republic could have intervened, had he so chosen. He did not so choose.

We made up the firing squads ourselves, for Gloria, while the Tercio Gorgidas provided the one for Salazar. They were picked, not volunteers. None of us would have volunteered, even if we didn’t like Gloria. We couldn’t refuse the order, either. Some tribune from Gorgidas that I’d never seen before commanded both. The firing squads stood nervously in ranks as the prisoners were marched out of their cells. I understand that of the twelve rifles, two had only blanks in them. That was so the girls and gays who’d been picked to execute the sentences could console themselves that—just maybe—they hadn’t really been shooting.

The sky was that shade of deep blue you see just before sunrise. Many times in training I had thrilled to wake up, stand and stretch, and feel the planet come alive around me at just that hour. I didn’t feel any thrill now, though. Those of us not in the firing parties stood in formation to one side to witness. I shook. I doubt I was alone.

Salazar took it fairly well. He marched out to the wall under guard but also under his own power. He stumbled, once, but that was just the darkness. Salazar shook his head “No” when he was offered the blindfold (a mistake, by the way; people who are going to shoot you in cold blood get nervous if you’re looking at them. Nervous people don't shoot well.).

Gloria had to be carried; tied, and screaming all the way. While Salazar was allowed to stand, and given a cigarette to smoke (yes, we really do that for these things), Gloria was trussed up to a stake. She kept squirming, though. A sergeant pasted aiming markers over each of their hearts, after bending his head to listen for the heartbeat. Salazar shouted out to Castro, “I’m sorry!”

Some large flood lights were lit on the order of Tribune Silva. The Gorgidas tribune shouted, “Ready,” and the firing squads lifted their rifles parallel to the ground...“Aim,” and the muzzles shifted imperceptibly...then “Fire!” There was a sound like a single shot, but longer.

I saw fluid (blood, I suppose) and bits of flesh shoot from out of their backs to spatter against the wall behind them. Salazar was thrown back against the stake, then fell to the ground. The impact of the bullets twisted Gloria half way around her stake. She slumped against the ropes that bound her to it. They were both still breathing; we could see that by the flood lights. Salazar seemed unconscious but alive. Gloria was trying to scream, but only blood and an occasional faint “coo” that was probably her best effort at a shriek, came out of her mouth.

The junior tribune ordered the firing parties to, “Order arms.” Then he marched to Salazar and shot him, once, in the back of the head, behind his ear. Unlike the members of a firing squad, there are no blanks for the officer commanding them. If you can’t kill you have no business being an officer. Salazar convulsed, then stopped breathing. The tribune walked a few more steps, took aim, and shot Gloria the same way. Her body shuddered violently but the cooing that passed for shrieking stopped. It was a mercy.

Garcia marched us away. We didn’t sing as we marched. I know I felt sick. I doubt I was alone in that. That night Marta cried herself to sleep on my shoulder.

Castro hanged himself from the limb of a tree a week later.

Was it right, what they did to those two? I’ve asked myself that question for many years now.

It was such a small thing in itself; what Gloria and Salazar did, I mean. Oh, sure, one or two of us might have pulled an extra shit detail because Gloria had been selling herself for consideration. (Or maybe it would be better said—more charitably said—that she’d been given consideration for giving herself. Didn’t matter, the effect was the same in either case.) Still, I’d have gladly pulled an extra detail or two if it would have spared me having to watch their deaths. I didn’t like the bitch, not even a little bit, or Salazar either. But I sure didn’t want them dead.

Franco called us together after Castro hanged himself, to talk to us. He was ready to puke himself; you could see that. Maybe he was talking to convince himself; I wouldn’t know. But there were tears in his eyes. I am certain of that.

“I remember an old line,” he began, “something about military justice being to justice as military music is to music. It’s both true and false. For one thing, military music can be of a fairly high artistic order, if art is that which causes emotional catharsis. Listen to Beethoven’s Yorckische Marschs ometime, if you don’t believe me; or Boinas Azules Cruzan la Frontera played on war pipes.

“The saying is true, though, in another respect. Military music serves primarily the cause of battle and so does military justice. It is concerned with the rights and privileges of individuals only to the extent that they may also serve the cause of battle. Battle in turn serves the cause of the country. The country, too, has an interest in winning as cheaply as possible, in terms of human life. Next generation’s quota of cannon fodder has to come from somewhere, doesn’t it?

“Well doesn’t it?” He sounded imploring. I think maybe Salazar may have been a friend. Or Castro...maybe both.

“So maybe the question isn’t whether it was just to have shot those two for such a trivial affair. Maybe the question is whether it would have been injustice to the country—which is to say, injustice also to the country’s soldiers, which is to say you and Inot to have shot them.

“Maybe you think the Court should have been lenient. Let’s suppose the court-martial board had been lenient. Suppose—despite the evidence—it had not found them guilty of mutiny. They could have received sentences of between twenty-five years, for Gloria, and forty years, for Salazar, on the other charges alone; all of that, by the way, being at hard labor, or until they died of it. Prison in this country is roughly analogous to state slavery, after all.”

Franco paused, as if not sure to continue. He did continue, though.

“Well, maybe Salazar wasn’t the only one of your trainers capable of having an interest in a woman. Hell, I used to have a girlfriend myself. Yeah, it was a long time ago. These things are often relative, not absolute. And maybe Gloria wasn’t the only one of us who might have...given herself for consideration. So, don’t you see? We hadto shoot them. We had to.”

I thought about that then...I do so still. Truthfully, I don’t know that I wouldn’t have done what Gloria did. Yes, it was that rough sometimes. In fact, the only ones in my platoon I am sure wouldn’t have were Inez Trujillo and Cristina Zamora—they were just too completely soldierly and decent—and Marta. Though she had her own reasons.

“Does it matter,” Franco continued, “if a leader is sleeping with a troop? Does it make a difference to an armed force that its leaders are treating some of its troops unfairly because they are sleeping with others? Will those troops being discriminated against have equal faith in their leaders when they suspect that those same leaders care a lot more for some other troops than they do for them? When we’re talking about instincts and feelings, does it even matter if the suspicion is valid or merely conjecture?

“There is some justice in equally shared dangers in war. How does a soldier take it when she might be going on an exceptionally dangerous night patrol so some other troop can warm his or her squad leader’s bed that same night? How about the third or fourth time they have to go on a really bad mission that ought go to the squad leader’s playmate?

“Oh, yes. Of course, once a war starts we’ll forget all the unofficial lessons we learned in peacetime about our leaders and the way they do business. Right. Of course.

“And I’m the Queen of Anglia.” Franco shook his head.

“No, Salazar betrayed you and us, both. It was maybe a small betrayal, but it was real. And you would have lost faith not just in him, but—to an extent—in all your leaders, then and in the future, if he’d gotten away with it.”

I suppose he was right about that. No, I know he was.

“And the woman? She was actually fairly capable in a lot of ways. She was quite bright. Her political instincts were obviously pretty high, too. She’d sure known where to give—or sell—herself to the greatest effect. Imagine if she’d actually made it past training. Imagine a unit of the tercio led by her. Who might have been next on her list of acquisitions? What would the rest of the girls have felt if Gloria had made high rank based on de facto prostitution while they struggled along just trying to be good soldiers? How long would the rest of you have kept trying, do you suppose?

“Then, too, she’d also betrayed Castro, another soldier; a comrade, who had a right to expect loyalty from any other soldier in the Legion. Forget about Castro killing himself a week later. Even if he hadn’t committed suicide, he would never again have been the same soldier he had been.

“A pretty good one, by the way. A decent human being, too.”


I think about those executions quite often, even now. I’m sorry they had to be done. I’m not sorry they were done.

Of course, the Legions have nothing against sex, per se. I have it on pretty reliable authority from a woman who knew Duque Carrera in much his younger days that he was something of a satyr. Presidente Parilla was worse. Most male leaders are married and many keep a mistress, too. There’s no law against it. Most Amazon leaders are married or living with someone of an appropriate rank. And the Legions absolutely only care about adultery that really is to the detriment of good order and discipline; with a comrade’s spouse or partner, typically, or an underling. A trooper can screw the world and the Legion won’t care unless it hurts the Legion.

Get caught screwing someone you oughtn’t, however, and go to the wall. No excuses.

And if there’s no chance of your ever going to go into a battle, you have as much right to comment on that as a man does to comment on a woman’s right to an abortion. Some, not much.

So, yes, we can play, more or less like real people. That doesn’t mean someone can play with us without permission, though.


Last of all the clothing issues they made to us, we were issued our parade dress uniforms. The uniform is still the same, even after all these years. Kilts.

I’ve always thought that made sense. They’re warlike. It can’t be said that kilts are really either masculine or feminine. They look good on both sexes. And they are distinctly more flattering to women than shapeless skirts or baggy trousers. I understand Carrera (one of his aides, I imagine, on his—our—behalf) applied all the way to Taurus for a particular tartan—that’s the pattern of plaid—for us. Carrera even went ahead and changed our unit name from Thirty-sixth Tercio Amazona to Thirty-sixth Tercio Amazona (MontaƱera) in case the Highlanders might object to kilts on other than highland troops.

We did, by the way, get some mountain training, though we honestly weren’t anything like as capable as Fifth Mountain Tercio. I’m sure there are women out there who could match the MontaƱeros, or even outdo some of them, in mountain climbing, just as there are women who can run, ski, swim, what have you, better than the average man. Do you have any idea how much time those world class women athletes, or any women who excel at some physical activity, have to spend on their sports? Even the naturally gifted ones we like to hold up as examples spend most of their waking hours in exercise. That just isn’t practical for a soldier; there’s too much else to do.

The other thing is that kilts—light ones, like ours—are very practical and healthy for women in a hot, muggy climate like we have. The uniform included all the other items of regalia that go with kilts, basket weave handled dirk high among them.

Towards graduation from basic we were allowed a couple of thirty-six hour passes. It isn’t generous and isn’t intended to be. What it really is, is a half reward and half re-assimilation into civil life for those not going to go on to a leadership school. None of us knew, as of yet, who would be going on- and upward, though we made some educated guesses.

A thirty-six hour pass doesn’t get you much. You’re not allowed to leave the island, even though you could make it to the City and back in theory. But you can catch a movie that isn’t either propaganda or training, you can eat a civilized meal at one of the three or four little towns on the island, you can visit the museum at the main cantonment area. You can go swimming or sunbathing on one of the beaches. You can even go dancing, there are a couple of clubs for the recruits, beer only. You can phone home, if you’re willing to wait an hour to get to a pay phone.

I called Porras to speak to Alma.

She asked me in her little voice, “Mommy? Is it really you?”

“Yes, Baby,” my heart leapt, “Yes it’s me.”

We couldn’t talk long, there being a long line of women behind me waiting to phone their own loved ones. But I did get to find out that Alma now knew her ABC’s, could add up to five plus five, and really, really wanted to know if the Gonzalez children could live with us when I came home.


A half dozen of us elected to go dancing one Saturday night. Trujillo was somewhat reluctant, but went along to keep an eye on us. She was like that.

We boarded a bus—one ran around “Perimeter Road” every fifteen minutes—and headed for Main Post, near the airfield. It stopped probably thirty times outside one or another of the little camps, like Botchkareva, that littered the island. The bus dropped us off right outside the Enlisted Club there on Main Post.

There was a kilted Amazona that I didn’t know except by sight waiting outside. She wasn’t in tears, but you could tell by the sound of her voice that she really wanted to be, and might have been but for her training. Inez asked what was wrong.

“I came here by myself,” she said. “And they...grabbed me”—she pointed to her buttocks and breasts—“and laughed about it. Bastards.”

“I see,” Inez said, without inflection. “I see.”

She turned towards the main door to the club, took a deep breath, and walked forward. We followed her in. She must have known we would.

Do men really act that way with a little beer in them? There were two long lines of staggering drunkards, one on either side of the hallway. Through some wide doors I could see a number of privates lined up along the top of the bar. They were making gestures and echoing commands that, I’d guess, were what troops about to jump out of airplanes did. Not far from the bar someone had pushed together four tables in the shape of a shallow ‘T’. A chair sat on the leg of the ‘t’. One really inebriated sot—he was probably eighteen or nineteen—was waving napkins in his hands. One by one a bunch of the others, arms outstretched like airplane wings, would run up to the long top of the ‘t’ and either do a belly flop and slide along it (someone had thoughtfully poured beer over the surfaces of the tables to make them effectively frictionless) or veer off and rejoin an almost unbelievably stupid looking circle of others, all of them likewise imitating planes.

I really shouldn’t criticize those boys. I once, years later, took my girls to a male striptease. Women can be, if anything, at least equally silly under the right circumstances.

I’d guess that the word had gone out that the Amazonas were on pass. The boys along the corridor were waiting for us. I won’t repeat their comments, they were demeaning and, under the circumstances, very, very unlikely.

The boys began to chant and clap their hands in time. Unfazed, Trujillo walked forward as if they weren’t even there. She walked, that is, until one of them tried to reach a hand under her kilt. (Old joke: Is anything worn under a kilt? Answer: No, everything is in perfect working order.)

I’m pretty good with a knife. Inez was something else. She had drawn her dirk and slashed the boy’s arm nearly to the bone in far less time than it takes to tell about it. One-armed, she pushed the gasping boyagainst the wall, then pinned the offending hand to the paneling with the dirk. Then she stood there in the middle of the hallway, arms folded and calm as could be, and asked, “Who’s next, boys? You?” she pointed at one with her chin. “How about you two? Why not all at once? Come on, you’re big and strong, you can take on little ol’ me. Of course, it might get a little messy.”

By that time the rest of us had our dirks out, stroking them, and were standing close behind Inez.

I have never seen so nonplussed a group of slack-jawed, bug-eyed men in my life. It must have come as quite a shock.

Finally, one of them, maybe a little less drunk than the rest, said “Cortizo, get an ambulance for Hernandez. Don’t call the MP’s.”

To us he said, “You are obviously not who we were waiting for. Pass, Ladies.” His voice added the capitalization.

Inez pulled the dagger from the wall, cleaned it on the boy’s uniform, and resheathed it. He fell to the floor when she released his shirt. Then we walked into the dance area unmolested.

Barbaric, no, having to actually fight for one’s dignity? Why shouldn’t Inez have left it to the law to preserve minimal respect for our persons? Weren’t we entitled?

Sister, in this world you’re not entitled to anything that isn’t bought and paid for, and then only if you can defend it. I have no doubt that we could have called the MP’s. I also have no doubt that we could have ruined the lives of some young men whose only fault was stupidity and immaturity. (I’m glad we didn’t. A number of those boys gave all they had, later on, for our good and the country’s. You can forgive a lot in someone who died for the country...and for you.)

Then, too, if we had, they would have despised us for it. Maybe that boy Inez slashed and pinned hated us afterwards. Or maybe not, men are funny about wounds. They often don’t mind a scar or two. And they’ve got a sense of justice, most of them, that can accept being slugged when they deserve it. But hated or not, those boys at least knew we were like them, soldiers, warriors.

I think Inez did more for us in that moment than anyone ever had or would.

The dancing itself was pretty uneventful. Only a few boys had the courage to ask one of us. I can’t recall that any of us declined. But, much like them, we were mostly too bashful to ask. Silly, no?

Some of them had a drinking contest going on, off in a corner. They didn’t invite us and we had no interest in joining. We did, however, watch as—one by one—the boys passed out, semi-comatose. I didn’t envy them their hangovers in the morning.

Though the spirit of the competition I found intriguing. We didn’t do that sort of thing.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Space Review

Still catching the current issue of The Space Review, here are a few items of interest: Donald C. Barker the VSE, previous cancellations, and what may come. Rodger Handberg looks at the history of NASA, budget shortfalls, project cancellations and cost overruns.
Better Late Than Never

I'm late in posting this, not the ever-reliable Dave Langford! For the online version of Issue 272, please use this helpful link!

NEIL GAIMAN's New Yorker profile revealed the secret of his allure: 'Pictures of his library, which contains some five thousand volumes, circulate on the Internet, propagating brainy crushes: "How could I not fall for this guy?? Honestly ... look at the sheer size of his ...library!"' (Dana Goodyear, 25 January) [MMW] Ansible dares not afflict John Clute with swarming groupies by flaunting his far vaster library size here.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Rumors of War (2010)

For this year's foray into military history and military fiction I am using as a guideline the U.S.M.C.'s Professional Reading List (Adobe Acrobat version here). Broken down by rank, for both enlisted non-comissioned, and warrant/commissioned officer, the Professional Reading List is a way of furthering a Marine's military education without a classroom. The list has changed through the years (an older version can be found here), I am using the current list as a guideline. There will be other books outside this list (or taken from the lists of other branches of service), but this looks to be the core for the year.

Nathaniel Fick: One Bullet Away—The Making of a Marine Officer (Houghton Mifflin Company; 2005; cover by Martha Kennedy; ISBN 0-618-55613-3).

This book covers the same unit and same period of time as Evan Wright's Generation Kill and in the same general area as Major Seth W.B. Folsom's The Highway War (both read previously). If you've seen the HBO miniseries Generation Kill, you'll also see many of the same incidents. Fick expands on the story and talks about his training as well as his unit's deployment into Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. The book was interesting on several fronts, in giving a different view of the events in Generation Kill and The Highway War; showing the training of both an officer and a unit; and illuminating the first several weeks of the Iraq conflict.

The saddest part? Have we really learned anything since Vietnam?

After channeling all my energy into applying to graduate school, I got a phone call from an admissions officer: "Mr. Fick, we read your application and liked it very much. But a member of our committee read Evan Wright's story about your platoon in Rolling Stone. You're quoted as saying, 'The bad news is, we won't get much sleep tonight; the good news is, we get to kill people.'" She paused, as if waiting for me to disavow the quote. I was silent, and she went on. "We have a retired Army officer on our staff, and he warned me that there are people who enjoy killing, and they aren't nice to be around. Could you please explain your quote for me?"

"No, I cannot."

"Well, do you really feel that way?" Her tone was earnest, almost pleading.

"You mean, will I climb your clock tower and pick people off with a hunting rifle?"

It was her turn to be silent.

"No, I will not. Do I feel compelled to explain myself to you? No I don't."

C.S. Forester: Rifleman Dodd—A Novel of the Peninsular Campaign (Kessinger Publishing; 2008; no cover artist indicated; ISBN 978-1-430453-86-4).

Forester, who is probably better known to most as the author of a series about a sea-going officer by the name of Hornblower, here tells the story of a private soldier cut off during a retreat from his regiment and his efforts to rejoin his unit. Over the course of several months, Dodd manages to tie up the enemy, form a group of villagers into irregulars, foil a attempt to bridge a river, and—in the end—return to his unit, worn, dirty, bruised and battered, but with his rifle clean and his equipment all accounted for. A relatively brief book (I read it in one evening), it was an very engrossing story.

First to be read by privates (E1) when using the USMC Professional Reading List.

Matt Gallagher: Kaboom—Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War (Da Capo Press; 2010; ISBN 978-0-306-81880-6).

Gallagher was a lieutenant (and then a captain) in two Stryker infantry units during the second Gulf War. In the course of his time there, he kept a blog and a notebook which eventually became this book. While there is some interesting stuff here, I've seen much of the same in similar narratives by officers of similar rank. It might have worked but there is one thing about the book that utterly drove me nuts: Gallagher uses nicknames for many of the people he served with or the Iraqi civilians he dealt with—Specialst Big Ern, SFC Big Country, Staff Sergeant Boondock and more. Was he protecting their identities? Not really, as everyone is named in the end, so why not save us all some sanity points and do a global find-and-replace. Sigh. Not going to be a keeper.

Colonel David H. Hackworth (U.S. Army, Ret.) and Julie Sherman: About Face—The Odyssey of an American Warrior (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster; 1990; ISBN 0-671-69534-6).

Hackworth rose from enlisted to Colonel and served in Europe, the United States, Korea and Vietnam. His career ended in controversy as he came to believe that we were fighting the wrong way during Vietnam and that many things about the U.S. Army are broken (many of these things are still broken, alas). I'm not sure if this book is on any of the curriculum's of various service schools or is part of any professional reading list...if not, it should be. The Army (the U.S. military overall) tends to forget the past and reinvent the wheel over and over again.

Part of the sequence of this book seems to have been excised and published separately (even with the cut, it is one darned long book). An amazing story.

Robert D. Kaplan: Imperial Grunts—On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond (Vintage; 2006; ISBN 978-1-4000-3457-4).

Kaplan's book is one of the more fascinating books that I read this year on the world situation. He covers his travels, as indicated in the sub-title, around much of the world, embedding with units large and small, in a number of countries. In the course of the book he shows us much of what is right about the U.S. military (and what is wrong, but there is more that is right than wrong) and gives us hints as to how it might evolve in the future. The emphasis is on such things as Civil Affairs, various special operations units and the U.S. Marine Corps. Like David Drake, Kaplan shows us the truth of the following: "When you send a man out with a gun, you create a policymaker. When his ass is on the line, he will do whatever he needs to do...And if the implications of that bothers you, the time to do something about it is before you decide to send him out." Highly recommended.

John Keegan: The Battle for History: Re-Fighting World War II (Vintage; 1996; ISBN 0-679-76743-6).

A very thin book, really several long essays, on a subject that Keegan has covered in several of his own books, the Second World War. Keegan looks at such subjects as those who put their spin on the war, the best and worst books on various aspects of the war and more. One very interesting thesis is how a good history of the war has yet to be written: not enough time has (even now) passed).

Peter R. Mansoor: Baghdad at Sunrirse—A Brigade Commander's War in Iraq (Yale University Press; 2008; ISBN 978-0-300-14069-9).

This book was a combination of a pretty good personal story of a soldier's development and a very good story of how one brigade reacted during the occupation of Iraq. It is also interesting (when combined with the other memoirs that I have read) the differences between those who report the war (for the most part, with the rare exceptions of some people like Atkinson and Yon) and those who are in a war. Very highly recommended, especially observations scattered throughout the sections dealing on Iraq and the final chapter of the book.

First to be read by captains on the USMC Professional Reading List.

S.L.A. Marshall: The Soldier's Load and The Mobility of a Nation (The Marine Corps Association; 1980; no cover artist indicated; no ISBN indicated).

This brief book (really two essays) details Marshall's thoughts on how much weight a soldier (or marine) might be expected to carry into combat and still be able to fight. He shows how the mythical man-load came to be, despite the efforts of many to trim it back (a couple of amusing examples include one general officer showing up in front of a higher general officer with what a staff had come up with for the ordinary soldier to carry to drive home the lesson). I wonder what the man-load of the U.S. soldier is these days with electronic gear and body armor tossed in.

First to be read by privates (E1) when using the USMC Professional Reading List.

Craig M. Mullaney: The Unforgiving Minute—A Soldier's Education (Penguin Books; 2010; ISBN 978-0-14-311687-5; cover photograph by Chung Sung-Jen).

The "education" referred to in the title was two-fold. First, came Mullaney's family and schooling, especially West Point and various service schools. Second, was Mullaney's actual war experience, especially in Afghanistan. The book is gripping, compelling, but in the end somewhat dissatisfying. Mullaney leaves the U.S. Army and goes to teach. Was it his war experience? Was it a broken system where it is ever "up or out" when it comes to your career? Was it a inflated review system where you need to start out walking on water, and heaven forbid if you ever go lower?

Thomas E. Ricks: Fiasco (Penguin Books; 2007; ISBN 978-0-14-303891-7).

A good view of the Iraq war through 2007, switching between locales and players (Washington, D.C., Iraq, President and staff, military) and viewpoints (very high to squad level). However, while Ricks is justified in much of his criticism, he is also somewhat myopic when it comes to the criticism. He is pretty harsh with members of the Administration, somewhat harsh with the military, but when it comes time to criticizing the media (of which he is a member), the gloves stay on. Somewhat strange, given the role the media played in the war.

Sun Tzu: The Art of War.

FTC Disclaimer: All books bought. All books written (with blood, sweat and tears).
Fred's Reading Report (January and February 2010)

Trying to get back into regular blogging, already running a deficit!

Long Form: 10 Books.

Hal Foster: Prince Valiant, Volume I: 1937-1938 (review here).

Fred Gallagher: Megatokyo Volume 01-05. Based on a webcomic, the books tell the story of Piro and Largo, two fanboys (anime, gaming, etc.) who end up broke in Japan. Piro gets a job in a game/anime/manga store and tries to raise enough money to return to the US and meets various anime stars while Largo battles zombies, a strange goth girl, various operatives from Sega and Sony, and encounters (and works for) the Tokyo Police Cataclysm Division (which tries to stay in budget and keeps all the monsters on schedule when it comes to invasions and the like). You can read (almost) all of the books online (for free), but I recommend the books as well (the artist has to eat). Lots of interesting stuff; while Piro's storyline tends to be more "mundane" and tends towards the romantic and you are never sure what is reality and what is fantasy in Largo's story, the two work well and even overlap.

Sarah A. Hoyt: Darkship Thieves (review here).

John Keegan: The Battle for History: Re-Fighting World War II.

Alastair MacLean: The Guns of Navarone.

The movie version was on Turner Classic Movies recently and I did not last through the whole viewing (I believe I had spent most of the day shoveling snow), so when I spotted the book in the library (first edition!), I took it out. The story is essentially the same, with the major exception that one character that dies in the book does not die in the movie and two characters that are female in the movie are male in the book. Several sequences in the book did not make it into the movie. A good, relatively short, adventure tale.

Nina Matsumoto: Yokaiden 01.

Given my increasing interest in manga, and my long-time interest in mythology, this story, about a boy who encounters yokai (various beings from Japanese mythology) caught my eye. I recently picked up the second volume; the first volume only introduces the storyline and the characters and is a bit too short to allow me to decide whether I really liked the story or not. (As a side note, shelved near these books was Yokai Attack! The Japanese Monster Survival Guide by Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt with illustrations by Tatsuya Morino. This is a amusing "reference book" on many of the creatures that appear in Yokaiden and beyond.)

James Swallow: Faith & Fire (review here).

Short Form: 281 entries!

Say what? 281 short works already? Well, yes, sort of. I started counting podcasts and the like this year. Is it a fair entry? While some (365 Days of Astronomy) are relatively short (10-15 minutes), I've read many short stories in the same time frame. Most of the podcasts I now listen to are far longer (1 hour to up to 4 hours), so given the investment, I thought it a legitimate entry. If you disagree...well, start your own blog! ;)

FTC Disclaimer: All books bought. With Real Money (TM).