Monday, October 27, 2008

Read: "Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse" by Victor Gischler

Read: Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler, 2008, 9781416552253.

Excellent. Once of the greatest novels ever written.

Mortimer has been set-up in his mountain cabin in Tennessee for nine years. A pending divorce ,a worsening economy and crumbling society sent him up there with supplies. The end of civilization made him stay. Looking out his cabin window one day he sees people for the first time in those nine years of hiding.

Mortimer realizes how lonely he has been and goes downhill to say hello. The three guys Mortimer saw seem to be out hunting. But, Mortimer is a little paranoid so he waits until two pass by when he calls out "Hello." from behind a tree. The third guy is startled and swings his rifle towards Mortimer. So Mortimer shoots him. Then Mort shoots the second guy. Afraid of angry friends coming after him Mort then shoots the third guy after a brief foot chase.

Mort leaves the mountain and goes through various adventures on a search for his
ex-wife. Makes a couple friends. Gets rich selling his massive booze supply at Joey's Armageddon bar. Fights cannibals. Almost gets raped in an old insane asylum. Fights rampaging member of the Red Stripes gang. Meets Joey Armageddon and agrees to travel to Atlanta to try and kill the leader of the Red Stripes.

Lots of humor. Some sex. Many brains separated from skulls. A crazed Ted Turner in Georgia. Fantastic stuff.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Listened to: "Retribution" by Max Hastings

Does a good job covering both the strategic planning and the people. Neat coverage of both the ranks and ranking officers; the hazards of combat and the personal conflicts and egos of the upper ranks.

Notes as I listen to this:

Production numbers astonishing. No way the Japanese could keep up. Same as Germans.

Disparity in numbers between ETO and PTO. So many troops in Europe but MacArthur, even with a grand title and rank, commanded just a portion of soldiers that European Generals commanded. MacArthur surrounded himself with sycophants and chose new staff based on looks and obsequiousness. MacArthur seems to have spent so much time on publicizing himself it's a wonder anything got done. His staff would ignore intelligence reports and repeatedly underestimate the enemy while their press releases would crow success.

The clashes of personalities and egos affected outcomes. The Philippines naval battle where where a task force commander chased after empty aircraft carriers rather than then support his other ships were caught by surprise by a great Jap force. Fog of war involved there as well as how the Jap force cut off its chase of US ships and the sure chance of the US ships' destruction.

The popularity of kamikaze pilots in Jap society. There was no problem in recruiting pilots. Many more attacks would have been carried out except for lack of planes and pilots never making it to the theater through a gauntlet of US defenses. Did not realize how many there were and how effective they were. Many missed or did not make it into a ship but could cause massive damage. Especially from the fires that would start on carriers after the airplane fuel started on fire. Massive burn injuries and deaths from ship fires.

Hatred and anger engendered by the institutionalization of kamikaze attacks. Started to despise the Japs even more than before. Refusal to assist surviving Jap sailors in the water. Praise in the West for men who would sacrifice themselves in battle - award of MOH or VC as recognition - but the bizarre thought of training and purposefully killing yourself.

The eternal problems of getting infantry to close with the enemy. In the Philippines soldiers would do the rational thing and stay put when shot at. Infantry would wait for tanks, air, or artillery to eliminate a threat. Unit success depended on the commanders' ability to drive the men into action. Units would claim to be pinned down. Pinned down is defined by Hastings a having several casualties and unable to maneuver without incurring more or worse casualties. But, units would - again, rationally - not move and claim to be pinned down.

Battle of Manila. Incredibly vicious and brutal. Systematic and institutionalized brutality, torture, rape and murder by the Japanese. Mostly Jap Naval forces were left behind with plenty of ammo and multiple hard-points in a city built to withstand earthquakes. Japs would round up people and center them to make killing easier. Directions from on high instructed them to use as little ammunition as possible and bayonets were used as a result. The Jap defensive tactics were fantastic but fortunately they never could get larger units coordinated and the counterattacks almost always failed.
Discussion on whether Manila should have been bypassed in lieu of capturing airfields and naval bases to continue the path to Japan. Because tens of thousands of a Filipinos were murdered by the Japs but the US killed almost at many with artillery and air attack. I understand the argument but even with MacArthur ignoring intelligence reports and showboating there was no way to know the result. Bypassing would have still left the civilians open to atrocities and criticism would center on leaving the civilians to suffer instead of liberating them.
The Philippines campaign was a mistake overall and unnecessary. The campaign of Luzon Island and then sending out landing units to all the other archipelago islands was a waste of lives and resources. MacArthur let his personal egos get in the way and ignored the Joint Chiefs. He would promote his incompetent subordinates to make himself look better.

Iwo Jima: "hand wringing" over carrier operations carried against the Jap islands rather than used against Iwo. Author's view that the deep, rock fortresses and caves of Iwo withstood the three day naval bombardment with no trouble and extra artillery attacks would not have helped. The real mistake was not invading sooner; if the US invaded in 1944 the defenses would not have been finished. The Japanese were absolute experts in defensive warfare.

Submarine warfare: The US Navy was very successful in shutting down Jap shipping. The figures Hastings quoted are surprising (not that I remember them). Submarine service required very aggressive boat commanders and a lot of captains were canned from their jobs unless they came back from patrol after sinking enemy.
The faceless nature of naval warfare is more pronounced when under water. Submariners rarely saw the destruction they wrought. But, they certainly heard and felt it, especially when hitting ammunition ships. Attacks by depth chargers were awful to endure. Crew would have to check for leaks to make sure oil or air were not leaking from the hull and alerting the enemy.
Submariners whose ship was sunk were often executed by the Japanese naval and merchant crewmen who suffered under their attacks.

USAAF attacks on Japan: The B-29 Super Fortress was a mess. They cost $0.5 M each and had multiple technological and mechanical problems. Multiple per mission would be lost due to engine failures and other problems. The would crash on takeoff and landing and be ditched in the ocean mid-mission.
The B-29s bombing ability was poor too. Inexperienced air crews would get 2% of the bombs on target. Radar would be used to identify ground targets but was still not accurate. Navigation by sextant required constant measurements by the navigator. Hastings used survivors' stories to tell the story of the March 9, 1945 incendiary attack on Tokyo. The resulting carnage was horrifying to listen to. The wooden and thatch houses of Tokyo quickly caught fire and the firestorm's winds and heat killed 100,000 people. "Crinkled" bodies littered the resulting wasteland with the only standing structures the few brick buildings, upright pipes, and iron safes.
General LeMay comes in for a lot of modern criticism for the firebombing of Japan. Hastings points out that the real blame lies with LeMay's superiors from the President on down who never expressed concern of ordered him to stop. LeMay used what he had: breaking B-29s and incendiary carpet bombing since pinpoint bombing never worked.

Several chapters covering China. China was a clusterfuck with the Nationalists and Coomunists both ineffective except for one division or regiment trained entirely by Americans. Mostall communist units were light infantry with nothing more than rifles - if they had those. The one good thing about China is that it tied up so many Japanese troops. They were left in the concquered territory and not fighting the real threat from the US.

Okinawa: another deadly island battle with fanatical resistance. The US estimates on battle casualties for an attack on Japan were welll founded. There were 1900 kamikaze fatalities by the Japanese. It must have seemed like a never ending flood of suicidal pilots. I was struck by the similiatirties to the current war's suicidal attacks. Both sides are or were supported by family and "government". The Japanese were defeatred and their crazy militaristic governance and ideals changed.

The End: A US General referred to the Japanese physically brave but "moral cowards". he got that right. Privately they would acknowledge that the war was lost and must accept surrender. Publicly they pledged to fight on. The upper military officers feared the eager majors and Colonels on their staffs who wanted to fight on. Meanwhile, while the cabinet and military dithered and dallied under the delusion on continuing the fight, enlisting Russia to their side, or demanding terms, more soldiers and civilians died.

I don' think I ever knew about Russia's invasion of Mongolia in 1945. The Soviets collected a fairly massive invasion force to include new divisions and combat-proven divisions shifted over from Germany. The Soviet invasion against the Japanese Army in Mongolia was one of the last nails in the coffin and shortened the war up. The Japanese could not rely on those troops anymore and hope to bring them back home to fight.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Finished: "Yellow Medicine" by Anthony Neil Smith

Finished: Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith, 2008, 978193257701.

This was good but I'm ultimately not sure what to think. I raised my expectations way too high after reading such good press about the novel and was criticizing rather than enjoying. The plot was a bit too outrageous to convince me and some characters could have used some more description and presence. I was reminded a couple times of James Crumley’s work but cannot recall why.

Billy Lafitte is fired from his Deputy job in Mississippi after taking bribes and working the black market post-Katrina. The illegal shenanigans Lafitte was up to are never really explained but you know he is a bad egg.

Freshly divorced after the scandal of his firing Lafitte gets a job offer as a Deputy from his ex-brother-in-law who is the Sheriff in Yellow Medicine County, MN. Lafitte has some Southern charm and starts ingratiating himself with co-workers and citizens while shaking down the local meth dealers for payoffs.

Things make sense up to there but then some violent Asian guys show up from nowhere and start horning into the meth market. The Asians are pressuring the local dealers to work under them instead of Lafitte. The Asians stupidly up the local violence level by killing those who do not comply

The Asians came to MN from Detroit when Lafitte’s ex-beat partner sends them over. Ex-Beat Partner figures Lafitte will be game to sharing the control as long as the money is right. Lafitte says no and the Asians continue killing off the competition.

Turns out the Asians are there to finance a terror ring based in Detroit. Lafitte and Sheriff Brother-In-Law and Lafitte's Sort-Of-Girlfriend Drew head over to Detroit to work up the local terror chain and try to get them to leave MN in exchange for Lafitte and Friends staying quiet.

Of course Smith does a better job at telling the story than I do. I wonder if Smith had a draft set in chronological order. Slipping back in forth from flashback to current time can be really effective but the way he set-up the story confused me. I am easily confused but still…


  • Lafitte’s and the reader’s perception of Lafitte's brother in law changes from do-gooder to do-whatever-needs-to-be-doner. It was neat to see that change but I wish more time was spent on him.
  • Drew, the Sort-Of Girlfriend, was not all that fleshed out.
  • The bad guys had lots of nasty potential – they’re terrorists for fucks sake - but I just wasn't feeling it.
  • Smith's injection of reality over the characters actions and possible repercussions was neat. Lafitte realistically worries about going to prison, keeping a paycheck alive to send money to his children in MS, not dragging other people into his mess.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Finished: Odyssey of an Eavesdropper by Martin L. Kaiser III

Finished: Odyssey of an Eavesdropper: my life in electronic countermeasures and my battle agains the FBI by Martin L. Kaiser III, 2005, 0786715464.

Very interesting. I caught Kaiser on C-SPAN's BookTV one weekend. I only heard the tail end of his talk but the stuff he was discussing was fascinating.

Kaiser has an innate ability to work with electronics. But, with a reading disability he ended up dropping out of college in 1957 and getting a job with an electronics lab. After different gigs working for different companies he started his own electronic repair business. His repair work would take him to all sorts of places. Driving around Baltimore in Fall of '66 he drove past a sign saying U.S. Military Intelligence, Fort Holabird. Thinking they had to have something that needed fixing he drove on in. He ended up in the office of an intelligence officer who had him repair some surveillance equipment. Kaiser easily fixed the stuff and told the Intel guy that he could make better equipment at a cheaper price.

Soon Kaiser's business was almost solely electronic countermeasure and bug building work. He produced equipment that sold to federal, local and military customers and had a staff of seven technicians. Black Bag jobs by the FBI and other government agencies were still going on all the time. When the FBI started buying equipment they did so through a middleman to conceal all the stuff they were getting. Kaiser distrusted this method and although he billed the middleman he would deliver the equipment direct to the FBI.

In 1975 Kaiser testified to a House committee and really pissed off the FBI. His information about the bugging devices, dual invoices through the middleman, and other shenanigans embarrassed the FBI greatly. All sales to the FBI and most other LE agencies ceased. Kaiser had to lay off his employees and started suffering from stress and depression. Fortunately for him he had a fall back specialty in bomb detection and bomb disruption equipment and loyal bomb detection/disposal customers who stood by him.

Kaiser places a lot of blame on the FBI for failed business and character assassination. But, you only read Kaiser's side of the story so I'm not convinced of all that he says. I am inclined to believe him though. Kaiser sounds like a real honest guy and Hoover's FBI could be particularly nasty in the '60s and '70s.

Kaiser added a forty page appendix at the end discussing modern eavesdropping and countermeasures. In the appendix intro Kaiser writes how he simplified everything in the appendix for laymen to understand. But, I still got lost.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Read: "Bathtub Admirals" by Jeff Huber

Read: Bathtub Admirals by Jeff Huber, 2008, 9781601640192.

Humorous at points but not great. This is something that a Navy veteran would likely enjoy.

Follows Jack Hogan through his Navy career in the '80s until his retirement post 9/11. Hogan has a great brain but has to battle the jealousies and pettiness of fellow officers and commanding officers who spend more time advancing their careers or trying to sabotage each others than doing the work that needs doing. Meanwhile is personal life often takes a backseat and suffers.

Since Huber, the author, and Hogan, the character, share so many traits I assume this is mostly autobiographical. But, as the author writes in the "forecastle" (preface): Most of the major events described actually happened, but not the way I describe them. names, places and identifying scars were changed to protect the author. Some things I remembered wrong, some things I remembered wrong on purpose. Some things I forgot entirely and was too lazy to do any research, so I remembered something new.

Some of those changed names are obvious. Wesley Clark, Senator McCain, Admiral Boorda.

Hogan was a good character and the supporting cast was good too. Huber sets a lot of the story at sea and the interactions among officers and crews is neat to read. The long duty hours trying to stay awake at 3 AM by telling stories. Huber's ragging on the stupidity and arrogance of fighter pilots.

Exaggeration is throughout but you gotta worry about military efficiency and truthfulness with the BS Huber satirizes. Sending out fighter/bombers without operating missiles or E2s without operating radar. Fighting during the Kosovo War among the Army (in charge), Air Force (wanting to win a war on their own), and the Navy (trying to justify a fleet of ships in the area). The buddy system protects some while scapegoating the rest. The bizarre Catch-69 of don't ask don't tell. The years long fallout over Tailhook.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Quit Listening To: "Spoon River Anthology" by Edgar Lee Masters

Quit Listening To: Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, downloaded from Overdrive.

Too difficult to follow in audio. I should try reading this again. I was reading it about 2.5 years ago - sometime in the winter - but it kept getting put aside and then was lost under a pile of stuff and I had to send it back.

I'm not so enamored with the poetry but like the short intertwining stories that intertwine the different characters and different time periods.

Read: "Bill Mauldin: a life up front" by Todd De Pastino

Read: Bill Mauldin: a life up front by Todd De Pastino, 2008, 9780393061833.

I ran across Mauldin's cartoons while doing a paper at Gustavus my Junior year. The illustrations were striking in their truthfulness. No wonder so many generals, Patton included, hated Mauldin and tried to shut him down. Mauldin said he never met a stuffed shirt he did not want to poke.

Mauldin grew up dirt poor in New Mexico and Arizona under a mentally ill mother and a shiftless father. He always enjoyed drawing and kept a paper and pencil with him. He started selling illustrations while high school aged and took instruction during H.S. in Phoenix and through a correspondence course. He joined the peacetime Army and ended up in Oklahoma and Texas during the Army's build up of 1939-1941. Mauldin despised the pissant rules and bureacracy of the Army and hated the politics and incompetence of his former National Guard - now regular Army - division. Mauldin wrangled a space on the division newspaper and from there on was always working.

Mauldin's career had assistance from sympathetic and admiring officers who gave him a chance at different military papers but his success was pure talent and hard work. He busted his ass observing troops in the field and front lines and then worked long, long hours sketching his final panels. He also worked hard to sell his work commercially and at the end of the year was w-i-d-e-l-y syndicated.

The bulk of Mauldin's fame came from his war work. A Pulitzer Prize, the love of millions of former GIs, the famous Willie and Joe characters, Mauldin's clash with General Patton, all of that was difficult to outlive. But Mauldin's growing work through the '50s and '60s as a journalist - a writer and columnist - was something he worked at and took pride in. Mauldin stayed away from Willie and Joe and his past career. But, when his illness was publicized in newspapers infantry veterans from everywhere came to show their thanks to him. His cartoons' impact during the war on both troops and at home was massive.

A couple interesting bits:

Mauldin made slovenly-less and cynicism chic for rear-echelon troops. Instead of emulating pilots by wearing silk scarves and rakish hats, some troops stopped shaving and wore beat-up fatigues.

Mauldin got punched out by a crony of Mayor Daly in Chicago when he was photographing all the double-parked cars on the street outside the Mayor's house during a wedding reception there.

There were some great quotes by Mauldin in the book. Mauldin had plenty of faults but was a very perceptive and smart fella and a person worth emulating in many respects.