Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Workout Video

I asked for an easy, brief workout video for Christmas—something I could do in maybe 15 minutes a day without raising a sweat. I figured that, given those two requirements, Doris wouldn’t be able to find any that qualified. It was a safe request that would be impossible to fulfill. I could virtue-signal my “desire” to get in shape, without worrying about actually having to follow through with it.

My sweet wife took me seriously. Except for the “15 minute” and “without raising a sweat” parts. Those provisos she seemed to ignore. So, she actually did give me a workout video for Christmas. Ho ho ho. They say that the best gifts have layers of meaning behind them. Not sure I want to do the excavation on this one. After attempting the first round today, I’m wondering if it has something to do with my life insurance.

I should have known I was in trouble when the DVD jacket said this guy was a former Combat Controller who trains US Special Forces operators. Unfortunately the DVD didn’t come with a bell so I could ring out.

The fellow leading the workout is bald. That, by the way, is the only thing we have in common. This guy out-atlases Charles Atlas. His sculpted shoulders are the size of my cheeks, and I’m not talking about the ones on either side of my nose. He is also completely without mercy.

The DVD comes with a seven-minute warm-up video. By the time that was over, I was completely gassed. The next segment was just an evaluation workout, to see whether I should go into the level 1 beginner track, or advance to level 2 or beyond. Let’s just say I failed the evaluation video with flying colors—not only do I not qualify for level 1, I couldn’t even complete the evaluation workout. Perhaps for the next month or so, I should just do the warm-up and cool-down videos, and skip everything in between.

All the literature associated with this program trumpets the fact that you don’t need a gym or any weight equipment. His exercises simply use your own body weight. I figure if I can get my total body weight down to maybe 30 pounds, I’ll be able to do the workouts.

It’s called the 90 day challenge. I’m gonna be challenged to complete the basic evaluation workout in 90 days. Next Christmas I’m asking for Crunch Munch.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Review of Stephen Ambrose' The Victors

When I began reading The Victors and realized that it was compiled from many of Stephen Ambrose’s other books on World War II, I was disappointed. I thought I’d be reading the literary equivalent of ‘refried beans.’

It was a needless concern.

Although I recognized some passages from Citizen Soldiers, D-Day, and Pegasus Bridge, the book read as a fresh telling of the momentous stream of actions that comprise the Allied victory in the Eastern Theater of Operations. Ambrose begins with D-Day and continues the account to the signing of surrender on May 7, 1945 in Reims. Most of the account details the actions of the Americans and the Brits, with less about the Canadians, even less about the French, and practically nothing about the Soviets.

Effusive in his praise of Eisenhower but equally unafraid to critique and criticize, Ambrose gives the reader a clear picture of what Ike had to deal with as he led a multinational coalition of competing egos, competing national and strategic priorities, and competing deficits in the character or competence of the general officers serving under him. Marshall, Montgomery, Bradley, and Patton occupy the lion’s share of attention when Ambrose writes of the generals, although accounts of many other general officers are included in the pages.

Most importantly, Ambrose exercises one of his great strengths as a writer and historian: he brings the reader down to the squad level of combat, with the privates, sergeants, and lieutenants. Through numerous interviews with the men who were actually there, the author puts the reader in the soggy foxholes with the soldiers as they battle the Germans plus rain, snow, mud, hunger, cold, trench foot, dysentery, and extreme sleep deprivation.

The book includes some good photographs, but only one master map. I would have enjoyed more maps, especially when the author invested several pages detailing specific battles. Here and there Ambrose embeds passages explaining tactics, weapons, policies, or even the politics hidden behind strategic decisions—these digressions were always fascinating.

Ambrose’s respect for the common soldier crafted from the common citizen is on display in The Victors. He concludes the book with a retrospective tribute to the enlisted men without whom no victory would have been possible. It is well deserved.

I walk away from The Victors marveling at the near superhuman endurance of the teens and twenty-year olds who not only survived the extreme conditions, but beat back the powerful German army. Will there ever again be such a generation? May God grant that there will never be the need. Five stars, highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

More than an adventure story

Imagine what would happen if an extremely contagious and deadly disease (genetically-engineered smallpox) was released in the atmosphere over four major cities in a criminal act of biological warfare? Suppose there was no known cure. What would the world look like eighty years later?

This is the world of Outlander Chronicles: Phoenix. The year is 2120, and the global population has fallen south of eight million souls, a population inadequate for manufacturing, mining, refining, power generation, or even government. The scattered remnants of humanity have divided into two groups: on the one hand, tiny communities trying to scratch out a living using rudimentary agriculture, and on the other, vicious lawless gangs that survive by raiding the communities. Both scavenge abandoned, decaying cities looking for what few material goods have survived eighty years of rot, neglect and exposure to the elements. The future looks more like the distant past—there’s nothing sci-fi about it.

A young man—Jacen Chester—decides it is time to try to replant civilization. He meets a mysterious stranger, an older man named Hakim. Hakim begins to mentor Jacen, teaching him how to survive in a world of violence and anarchy. The two men could not be more different, however. They must first learn how to survive their own sharp disagreements.

Outlander Chronicles: Phoenix is much more than a fast-paced action-adventure novel. Amid the gunfire and fighting are serious philosophical discussions about God, faith, forgiveness, the source of morality, secularism and more. The story could be characterized as a “parable of forgiveness disguised as a shoot-em-up.”

The tale does contain heart-stopping violence but not any obscenity or skin scenes. Readers ranging in age from early teens to senior citizens have found it to be gripping and hard to put down. The premise of the tale along with the characters, the plot line, the action, and the arguments around the campfire combine to make this novel far more than the average mass-market paperback.

If you’re looking for a great read with a little more meat in it, Outlander Chronicles: Phoenix should be on your list. A sequel has also been released, Outlander Chronicles: Pegasus.

Both books are available from Amazon in print or Kindle formats, or from the Doorway Press store, from Bread of Life bookstore in Greenville, or from your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore through the Ingram catalog. You can see all my books at