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Monthly Archives: August 2008

The Army Air Force Exchange Service not only has a webpage/online shopping mall, but the service itself is interested in archiving its 100+ years of history.  The page dedicated to this contains not only photographs and facts, but an ongoing call for anybody with relevant experience and documents to step forward and share.  It’s a very good idea, partly because when one lives overseas, the commisary, PX/BX, and all the other services really are a important part of day to day life.

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Here is a universal truth some people often forget: all writing has form.  It doesn’t matter whether the writing in question is poetry, drama, essay writing, or fiction, everything has a shape in how it’s crafted.  Quite often, many of those forms and shapes are consistent and frequently used.  It’s a charge often seen when a critic/reviewer charges that a book is “formulaic.”  More often then not, that’s meant in a negative way.  However, it doesn’t have to be.  Being “formulaic” or “by the numbers” in popular fiction, for example, is not a terrible thing.

Think of this way:  cooking usually tends to be formulaic.  If one is baking a cake, there are always going to be similar ingredients used, whether it be flower, butter, and sugar.  One is hardly going to bake a cake using baking soda, rock salt, and organ meat.  Even if one did, however, I wouldn’t eat it — its value as a cake becomes highly suspect.  A highly skilled chef, on the other hand, would take the familiar cake ingredients, cook close to the recipe (form), but would provide personal enough personal variations so that the result ends up being uniquely theirs.

Skilled genre writers often approach fiction the same way a master chef approaches a recipe.  Let me put it this way.  Lets substitute “Detective novel” for “cake.”  Lets say the ingredients were 1) a broke private eye, 2) A beautiful, but mysterious woman, 3) Cops who are either wrong or three steps behind the PI, and 4) dastardly villains.  There’s likely more, but lets say these are the butter, sugar, salt, and flower of the cake recipe — that is, the basic building blocks.  One can mix them and follow the usual recipe to get the most standard and widely consumed results.    Yet, it’s the variations and embellishments that separate the common and mediocre from something that is a little more special and interesting.

So, lets say you have those basic mystery building blocks mentioned, and you start begin to add occult magic, Lovecraft’s elder god, tentacle monsters, and a few other things.  All of a sudden, you don’t have the standard noir novel anymore.  You have something a little more unique.  And that, in my long winded way, finally brings me to William Meikle’s The Midnight Eye Files: The Amulet.

Sure, it’s a noir/detective/private eye mystery.  Meikle isn’t content to just leave it that way, as adds a strong touch of Lovecraftian horror.  The result is not that inedible rock salt cake I mentioned earlier.   The result has the best of both worlds — it’s a credible mystery, and it has enough of the supernatural to land it squarely in the horror camp.  It plays so well in both worlds, it really is a pleasure to read.

Basically, the story follows a detective in a story that starts in the standard noir way.  The detective is sitting in his office, wondering about the state of his career when I strange woman walks in promising a lot of money.  She wants him to find an old artifact from the Middle East — an amulet.  Apparently, it’s been stolen.  The PI takes the case, and the world begins to slowly unravel around him.  The amulet has mystical properties, and the people who stole it want to use it to acheive a nefarious objective.  The shit hits the fan — to use a cliche, and the fate of the world remains in the balance.

As I said, earlier, the story meets a basic starting formula, but Meikle actively makes that formula his.  The writing itself is crisp, filled with good description and strong dialogue.  The Scottish setting, while not prominent, grounds the reader in a sense of place.  The characters, while themselves variations on noir tropes, are beleivable, and more importantly, likable.    All of this, taken together, makes for a smooth, enjoyable read.  In that regard, I have Meikle’s sequel, The Sirens, and I look forward to reading that soon.

In Europe, it’s really hard to travel around and not see the lingering effects of the War and Nazi Occupation, even many, many decades later.  There’s a sensitivity to fascisim that runs deep — whether it’s the Nazi Party being outlawed in Germany, or much, much smaller things.  To some conservatives, the following might seem a little too “politically correct.”  On the other hand, one must remember that soccer hooliganism is one of the last bastions of white supremacy in Europe.  Care of the Brussels Journal:

Patrick Dewael, the Belgian minister of the Interior, has forbidden the wearing of football shirts displaying the numbers 18 and 88. According to the Liberal minister the number 18 stands for “Adolf Hitler” and the number 88 for “Heil Hitler.” A is the 1st letter of the alphabet, H the 8th.

The numbers 37 (Che Guevara) or 13 (Mao) are not forbidden. Neither are the popular T-shirts with Che Guevara’s portrait.

One reader in a Brussels paper wondered whether citizens living in houses with the numbers 18 and 88 will be blacklisted as Nazis by the authorities. Young people born in 1988, who have email addresses containing their year of birth, are worried too.

The last couple of points could be taken as sarcasm.

If one were to take a look at the current spate of zombie films and books, three things pop up: the zombies themselves are the results of either mutation, viral infection, or other-worldly possession. It’s the mutation and infection one routinely sees in either Romero’s films, or in the Resident Evil movies. As for other worldly possession, that seems to come almost exclusively, these days, in Brian Keene’s three best selling zombie books, The Rising, City of the Dead, and Dead Sea. There is, however, a much older tradition, one that predates Night of Living Dead. Zombies used to be province of voodoo films, where outsiders and/or tourists come accidentally traipse into a mess of indigeneous culture.

That’s certainly the case with All Souls Day. Basically, the director, writer, and producers of the movie sought to buck the current zombie trend and harken back to the sort of film Lugosi made with White Zombie. The resulting story places an American couple driving through Mexico. They end up in a desolate little town, and unbeknowst to them, they interrupted a human sacrifice. All Souls Day, a post-halloween holiday in Mexico, is a day where the dead routinely rise. But do they only savagely want to eat people? Or is the issue more complicated?

I’m not going to go there, at this moment. Basically, the acting is so-so. The characterization strikes one as a little trite, and the story, with it’s shocking twists and turns, is workable. In short, All Souls Day is a mediocre film, but it’s one that’s not a bore to watch, at least.

–Rich Ristow

If you live in West Virginia long enough, you end up hearing lore and bits of history.  For example, one widely circulated tidbit suggests that the term “red neck” has Appallachian roots.   Striking miners during the many coal strikes wore red handerchiefs around their necks.  There’s one more thing West Virginia, though.  You live there long enough, and the you’ll eventually hear the bloody history of coal, too.  Strikes, at the end of the 19th Century consisted of more than just picket lines. Quite often, they were violent confrontations between the miners themselves and the thugs mine owners hired.  Simply put, the right to unionize and collectively bargain was a struggle that has gone on for more than a hundred years, and labor rights were paid for the lives of agitators.   And the coal miners went on strike for good reasons.  Mine conditions were hardly favorable.

It’s important to keep this in mind when watching a film like Wicked Little Things.   Sure, it’s a lower budget horror dvd, but the premise of the story builds off of the types of legends you’d hear in Appallachia.  Basically, Wicked Little Things is a movie about ghoulish, monster children.  The come out at night, and they eat people.   Their origin, however, comes straight from the earlier days of Apallachan coal mining.  Basically, before there were laws against child labor, kids worked in more than just sweatshops in cities like New York.  In the mountains, they were often working in the mines, going places in the rock where full grown adults couldn’t possibly squeeze into.  Due to the callous nature of the mine operators, many of those children died, becoming malevolent entities.

In the mean time, a widow and her daughters moves into the haunted hills, partly because they have no where else to go, and they think they’ved inherited property.  Slowly, but surely, the family comes face to face with these ghostly children — who now have a taste for human flesh.

All in all, not a bad film.  There are plenty of horror movies out there that trade in the same tropes, and for a change, it’s interesting to see that character and mystery play more of a fole in the film than mere gore and people eating.

–Rich Ristow

For the two years my family lived in Belgium, we lived in Le Roeulx, which is just east of Charleroi. My neigborhood was mostly Belgian, but due to the close proximity to SHAPE and Mons, a number of Americans also lived in the area. Mostly, they were either DODDS teachers or personell (my mom and dad, for example), or officer’s families. Since I, as well as the other American kids in the area, went to High School (Grades 8 & 9) on SHAPE, a chartered bus made it’s route through here.

At anyrate, googling Le Roeulx has lead me to discover that it has it’s own flag:

As well as a very long history, care of flagspot.net:

Le Rœulx, known in the past as Rues (1166-1188), Ruz (1188-1191), Rueth, Ruels, Roelx and Reux, was probably named after the Latin word rhodus (or Germanic röde), “a cleared charcoal forest”. The village developed around the St. Feuillien abbey, built around 1125. Born as Faelan in Western Ireland around 600, Feuillien left Ireland as a missionary with his two brothers. After seven years spent in England and France, Feuillien met St. Gertrude, Abbess of Nivelles in 645. The abbess granted him land in Fosses, where he founded a monastery in 651. In 655, on their way from Nivelles to France, Feuillien and his fellows were killed and beheaded by rascals. The murderers hid the saint’s body in a pigpen, where it was found only two months later, and brought back with great pump to Fosses via Nivelles. The place where Feuillien’s body had been found became a place of pilgrimage, marked by a cross later replaced by the Sénophe chapel. The lower maxillary of the saint is kept in a shrine shown in the St. Niccolas church of Le Rœulx.

Around 1125, monks from the Norbertine order set up the St. Feuillien abbey around the chapel. The abbey, with an estate spreading over 15 ha, was the origin of the town of Le Rœulx. The abbey only housed 20-40 monks but also a doctor, a surgeon, a chemist, cooks, a brewer, a gardener… The abbey flourished but its power was more and more challenged by the lords of Le Rœulx. The last monks were expelled in 1797, following the French Revolution. The abbey was purchased by Papin, Mayor of Le Rœulx, and in the early XIXth century by the Croÿ family. Most buildings were suppressed in order to set up the northern part of the park of the castle. The only remains of the abbey are the gate (1770), the gatekeeper’s house, a part of the wall of the vegetable garden and cellars. Paintings and stalls, preserved by Norbert Durieu, last Abbot and later Canon in Tournai, were transferred into the cathedral of Tournai. A monstrance made in 1543, maybe by Estiévin de Bussy, is kept in the Museum of the St. Vincent Collegiate Chapter of Soignies; it is decorated with the three statues of God, Apostle St. Peter bearing a key and St. Paul, and surmonted by the Dove of the Holy Spirit and Jesus on the Cross; the monstrance is brought back to Le Rœulx once a year, on the Adoration’s Sunday.
Saint-Feuillin had given his name to the local beer, a top-fermenting ale brewed by four generations of the Friart family since 1873.

At the outbreak of World War One, the British were among the first to accuse the Germans of war crimes in Belgium. The Bryce Report, which, like the preceding post, can be found at firstworldwar.com, details such claims. The following is but one example:

In Tamines, a large village on the Meuse between Namur and Charleroi, the advance guard of the German army appeared in the first fortnight in August, and in this as well as in other villages in the district, it is proved that a large number of civilians, among them aged people, women and children, were deliberately killed by the soldiers. One witness describes how she saw a Belgian boy of fifteen shot on the village green at Tamines, and a day or two later on the same green a little girl and her two brothers (name given) who were looking at the German soldiers, were killed before her eyes for no apparent reason.

The principal massacre at Tamines took place about August the 23rd. A witness describes how he saw the public square littered with corpses and after a search found those of his wife and child, a little girl of seven.

Another witness, who lived near Tamines, went there on August 27th, and says: “It is absolutely destroyed and a mass of ruins.”

Hyped up propaganda not withstanding, the Germans did commit war crimes in World War One, as has been noted elsewhere on this blog.   Firstworldwar.com has a condensed report, as issued by the US Ambassador, Brand Whitlock, regarding the conduct of Germans in Belgium:

Towns were sacked and burned, homes were pillaged; in many places portions of the population, men, women, and children, were massed in public squares and mowed down by mitrailleuses, and there were countless individual instances of an amazing and shameless brutality.

The stories of these deeds gradually filtered into Brussels in ever increasing numbers as the days went by, brought by the refugees, who, in crowds, fled the stricken region in terror.  It was difficult at first to believe them; but the stories persisted, and were told with such detail and on such authority that one could no longer doubt their essential truth.  They became a matter of common knowledge and public notoriety; and they saturated the general mind with their horror.

The report goes on to detail a number of incidents.  The descriptions are graphic.  Not sensationalistic, as the prose is spare and precise:

In the seven small villages surrounding Aerschot, forty-two persons were killed, four hundred and sixty-two were sent to Germany, one hundred and fifteen houses were burned and eight hundred and twenty-three were pillaged.

One of the most sorely tried communities was that of the little village of Tamines, down in what is known as the Borinage, the coal fields near Charleroi.  Tamines is a mining village in the Sambre; it is a collection of small cottages sheltering about 5,000 inhabitants, mostly all poor labourers.

The little graveyard in which the church stands bears its mute testimony to the horror of the event.  There are hundreds of new-made graves, each with its small wooden cross and its bit of flowers; the crosses are so closely huddled that there is scarcely room to walk between them.  The crosses are alike and all bear the same date, the sinister date of August 22, 1914.

Before I was born, my family lived in the Phillipines.  My father worked as a PE teacher aboard Clark Air Force Base, and by night, he was finishing a PhD  From the University of Santo Tomas.  My older brother was born there.

Anyhow, there’s a decent Clark AFB website that contains aerial and sattilite photos, among other things.

EUCOM is short of European Command.  Basically, spheres of American Military command stretch all over the globe.   Conflicts in Iraq and Afganistan, for example, fall under the auspices of CENTCOM.  So, obviously, EUCOM coordinates military activity in Western Europe.  EUCOM’s webpage does contain a detailed history. This is what it says for EUCOM’s “area of responsibility”:

The USEUCOM area of responsibility (AOR) has also continued to evolve during the past fifty years. In 1952 it included continental Europe, the United Kingdom, North Africa and Turkey. The AOR subsequently expanded to include Southwest Asia as far east as Iran and as far south as Saudi Arabia.

With the establishment of the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) in 1983, which assumed responsibility for most of the Middle East region, the USEUCOM AOR became Europe (including the United Kingdom and Ireland), the Mediterranean Sea (including the islands), and the Mediterranean littoral (excluding Egypt, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti), and sub-Sahara Africa.

Beginning in 1989, a sea change swept over Central and Eastern Europe, dissolving both the Warsaw Pact and ultimately the Soviet Union itself. As a result, a number of “new” countries (with additional responsibilities) were added to the AOR, bringing the total to 91 countries. It is important to note that although NATO Europe was USEUCOM’s raison d’être, the command’s mission to promote stability and democratic growth among African and Middle Eastern countries is of equal importance.

On 1 October 2002, in Unified Command Plan 02, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld introduced major changes in Joint responsibilities–every nation of the world was assigned to one of the five U.S. regional unified combatant commands. [There were ten unified combatant commands in all.] The immediate intent was to unquestionably globalize America’s growing war on terrorism. HQ USEUCOM’s AOR now totaled 93 countries, to include Russia. The theater thus comprised 30 percent of the earth’s landmass and 23 percent of the world’s population. A March 2004 change to UCP 02 transferred responsibilities for Syria and Lebanon to US Central Command, reducing USEUCOM’s AOR to 91 countries.

And, this is the description of EUCOM’s mission:

In 1989, the primary missions of the Headquarters United States European Command were essentially the same as they had been on 1 August 1952: to support the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and execute U. S. policies within the prescribed AOR.

By the end of the next two years, the politico-historical changes in Europe, as mentioned, coupled with developments outside of the AOR–of which the Gulf war in Southwest Asia (SWA) was undoubtedly the most visible–permanently changed the operational environment. The dramatic events of the 1990s ushered in a new world for the command. And 11 September 2001 totally changed the way HQ USEUCOM executes its mission responsibilities.

USEUCOM is now called upon not only to maintain ready forces to conduct unilateral operations but also to work in concert with allied and coalition partners, as can be seen since 1990–in the Middle East (Desert Storm and Operation Northern Watch), the Balkans (Operations Forge, Guardian, and Amber Fox), and the Global War on Terrorism (Operation Enduring Freedom). USEUCOM continues to enhance transatlantic security through support to NATO. Of equal importance, the command also continues to promote regional stability and advances US interests in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Russia–largely implemented through numerous theater engagement initiatives such as Partnership for Peace programs, military-to-military contact programs, and peacekeeping and peace enforcing and training operations.