The Similarities Of Two Seemingly Different Activities

What I like about my favorite simulation games is that you can set up a situation and see how it plays out. Sometimes it’s an obvious situation, and sometimes you legitimately don’t know. Sometimes it’s legitimately relevant to contemporary issues, and sometimes it’s a total gonzo fantasy. I did think that writing fiction was different-until I actually wrote multiple books.

In the spectrum of “write completely as you go along” to “meticulous plotting”, I’m somewhere in between. I do make outlines and character lists, as much as so that I don’t forget them as for any other reason. But my final products have frequently either diverged from the outline or incorporated something not in them. Reminiscing on that has made think “a-ha, so it really isn’t that different from a sim.”

It involves me setting up a situation (which is to say the basic plot and main characters). Then it involves me seeing how that situation plays out over the course of me writing and editing it. It is fascinating to look back on my completed books and see how their development unfolded.

On Sports Betting Media

The legalization of sports betting in the United States has brought about a wave of media devoted to it. And even in the offshore era, there were no shortage of websites talking about gambling. After looking at sports betting media, it didn’t take me long to sour on it. Even with less direct knowledge, it came across as being extremely shallow at best and, more often, something sinister seeming. It felt like trying to goad people who knew basic sports trivia into playing a stacked against them game (even back then, I knew the fundamentals of how gambling worked).

And after finding out more, studying more, and getting the spark that would lead to The Sure Bet King, I feel weirdly proud to say that well, I was completely on point. The conflicts of interest are there. Sportsbooks themselves and their loss share affiliates (people who get others to sign up to the books in exchange for a share of the house winnings) obviously have no direct incentive to help punters win and much motivation to help them lose. There’s a reason why sportsbooks hype up the people who hit a monster parlay/accumulator (where multiple outcomes all have to win), because those are where the house has the biggest edge. The idea is to get Joe Sportsball Fan to be convinced that if he follows his gut and knowledge of trivia, like how Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have that clutch spirit, then the jackpot will be his.

Even more innocently, I think (no pun intended) that even without this conflict, a lot of sports betting shows are just basic sports opinion pieces given a gilded gambling coating. The indispensable “Sports Truth with William Leiss” channel (who I actually thanked in the dedication to my book, and with good reason), has two videos showing this, which is dubbed the “think tank.” There isn’t any actual statistical analysis (not that most sports hosts could really do it beyond “Oh, he’s hitting .230”), just stuff like “I think that the Giants offense isn’t ready yet so I think the Colts will cover.”

Then there are the few sharp bettors who are (of course) magnified on social media. To be honest, after seeing what it entails, I would chose one of my old jobs that involved hauling carts back to a rickety old, cramped supermarket, often in bad weather, for six days a week, in an instant over being a professional sports bettor. It just feels almost wasteful, like a strange form of slumming from people who have the drive and/or intelligence to succeed at other careers that are far less zero-sum and far more relaxing. Learning that a lot of the “sharps” win not by being better handicappers but by a combination of manipulating the lines and doing the equivalent of coupon-clipping and bargain hunting, further drove my opinion down.

In fact, despite me maintaining every bit of negative feelings for the sleazy tactics of the bookmakers, I actually began to take their side to an extent regarding the banning/limiting of winners (one of the most vocal complaints from the sharps). And it wasn’t just “oh, they have to make money.” It was more like “oh, they have every right to keep munchkins from plundering them. Good for them.”

And then there are the touts, or tipsters. These pick-sellers are nearly all scam artists, and when I saw how they worked, I knew that one would be the perfect topic for a novel. Touts got amplified because for the longest time they were the only sports betting figures who could operate semi-openly (see the infamous infomercials), and they took advantage of it post-legalization.

Finally, there are the various governments who treat sports betting as a tax-producing cash cow. New York is particularly ham-fisted in this regard, which is even more counterproductive because there’s the far more lenient New Jersey right next door. So yeah, there’s that too.

So I came away from my research with even less regard for the sports betting industry than I had before-and more of a feeling that it would be great subject matter. So I wrote my first full-length novel about that very topic. And I had lots of fun doing so.

In Memoriam, Pierre Sprey

It took me some time to find out that Pierre Sprey, the legendary face of the “Pentagon Reformers”, passed away. RIP, and all sympathies with his friends and family. His life as a person (and music producer) has little to do with his life as an analyst. But it’s Sprey as an analyst that the military internet knows, and that legacy is, sadly, mostly for the worse.

As an analyst, Sprey symbolized a lot of trends, most of them negative. What he was most known for was his faulting any aircraft beyond a YF-16 as being slow, clunky, expensive, and that wouldn’t even work. One can take a sympathetic view and point out that it made much more sense in the 1960s with bulkier, objectively less effective early sensors. Once solid state electronics developed, one could have one’s cake and eat it too. Sprey still kept designing an air force that would make perfect sense-for a third world country in 1962.

Sprey also had a McNamara Pentagon (of which he was a member)-style fascination with numbers for their own sake. Thus the F-86 was good because of its (inaccurate) 10-1 kill ratio, as opposed to the lower rates of Vietnam-era fighters. SAMs were overhyped just because they didn’t shoot down that many aircraft directly. While some of it was grounded, it felt like spherical cow analysis from someone who didn’t understand context.

To me the extra-sad part was his decline. This can happen to people in all circumstances. Joe Morgan the baseball player was an ahead-of-his time figure whose style was a sabermetrician’s dream. Joe Morgan the baseball analyst was a traditionalist cliche-spouter who became a sabermetrician’s nightmare. Bill Belichick was one of the more sensible coaches when it came to going on fourth down. Now he’s one of the most timid. Tom Clancy dropped significantly in quality. You get the idea.

What wasn’t Sprey’s fault was that he ended up in a media environment where he had no incentive to be accurate and every one to continue his initial statements. What was his fault is that he embraced it. He could just keep citing his (somewhat exaggerated) credentials and repeating all of his soundbites. He could get sloppy to the point where he couldn’t even display the right system (using a Stryker MGS to symbolize a 175mm M107). He could sound credible to people who had entirely reasonable suspicions about military equipment-and not enough knowledge to counter him. But to people who did have enough knowledge, he became a mildly annoying irrelevance.

In fact, I could probably argue that Sprey hurt his own cause. Because too many people with legitimate concerns about legitimate technological overreach cited or sided with him, it likely harmed their own credibility. What I’ve read is that there was a surprising amount of common ground between the Pentagon Reformers and those actually in the military who wanted “good enough now” solutions and a focus on human improvement over trying to tech past problems. They squandered it by going completely outside.

Sprey should have been remembered as a man who did some defense commentary a long time ago and spent the rest of his life as an eccentric music producer. Instead he willingly became, in the words of military Youtuber “Lazerpig“, a “rent a critic”.

The Making Of A Division

Just as eggs, butter and flour mix don’t equal a pancake on their own, having three hundred tanks and two hundred APCs does not equal an armored division. By American standards, even in World War II, it took a year and a half to turn a scratch-built division from “exists on paper” to “ready to deploy”. Postwar, two years was an optimistic hope.

The central core of the division is a “cadre”. The officers (how many are commissioned vs. non depends on the circumstances) comprise the cadre of the division, which in a normal sized division is around one to two thousand people. Reserve forces deliberately keep their cadre at higher strength and readiness so they can be quickly built around during mobilization.

There’s also external powers not just supplying the equipment, training, and resources for their client/colonial army, but also supplying the central officer cadre as well. (This is why one snapshot analysis of Iranian casualties in the Syrian Civil War found no confirmed dead below the rank of sergeant.)

I also want to say that the cadre forces are the hardest to obtain (from just my amateur gut reaction) compared to either a large number of shorter-trained recruits or a few high-level commanders. The bottleneck for your revved-up 25 division army, especially an effective one, feels like the roughly 25,000 people in the cadre, compared to the 25 commanding generals or the 250,000 enlisted. And this is before political difficulties arise. Although I should note that this was less an issue for continental powers in the World Wars because of both having plenty of survivors from destroyed units as cadres and, to be frank, lower standards.

Cadres can come from:

  • Scratch-trained officers “jumping rank”.
  • The small existing military being streched out to become a cadre force (this happened in World War II-in 1939 Ike was a lieutenant colonel).
  • Retired personnel being brought back.
  • Existing irregulars being formalized. (This led to “Zouave” regiments in the American Civil War being formed around Napoleonic reenactors because they were the only ones with skill at musket drills).
  • External personnel being sent in to fill the cadre role.
  • Survivors from reduced/destroyed units.

Courses of Action

So one of my concepts, well, anyway…

-Intact, with all the cancelled toys USSR going to finally rid themselves of the surviving Ceausescu (I’ve wanted to write a sort of “Soviet Gulf War”). Notably, the only ex-Warsaw Pact state that allows staging and troop support by this point is Bulgaria. (Bulgaria was considered the most politically reliable of them, being a longtime Slavic ally of Russia that did not experience much unrest before the fall).

-This was created using the amazing Map.Army program.

-Heavy OPFOR Operational says that high-level paradrops generally max out around 250 km from friendly troops (Which means 36 hours to catch up even under their most ideal advance rates, four days under the most ideal against a peer opponent, and at least a week under any kind of realistic resistance). The earlier Voroshilov Lectures say 150 km at most in conventional conditions.

That being said, the map!

Three courses of action. These are not specific drop zones but general guidance areas, and yes, I did extend COA 2 into the Ukrainian SSR itself. OOPS!.

Course of Action 1 (not labeled but closest to the border) is the most tame, and features a variety of tactical close-to-support airdrops in the initial advance areas. Course of Action 2 is a deeper operational/strategic drop to secure the other side of the Carpathian Mountains. Finally, COA 3 is the deepest and most daring yet and involves having paratroopers land ultra-deep to quickly establish a presence in the Yugoslav/Serbian border to try and hold off any escape or resistance aid from there.

As for the rest of the plan, it’s pretty much Soviet boilerplate-blast through, charge deep. Bucharest is going to be encircled first and then left to second-line units (including Bulgarian ones) to actually reduce. Romania’s plan in this not-unexpected event was to just stage a prolonged unconventional resistance and use their inevitable-to-be-overrun regular units to buy a little setup time.

The Seventh Marine Division

So with the help of the Spatial Illusions Unit Symbol Generator, I set to work making an alternate historical USMC formation. First, the very name. The name “7th Marine Division” is deliberate to symbolize its fictional nature. In real life, the USMC never had more than six divisions even at the height of World War II.

The 7th Division itself is basically an administrative formation that would never actually deploy in full as one manuever unit. Even its subunits are often unlikely to deploy in full at any one location. Its “line” formations are the following.

  • The Parachute Regiment, a sort of revival of the Paramarine concept. The heaviest formation in the 7th Division (in that it has the light artillery and vehicles that an airdroppable regiment/brigade elsewhere would), it functions as a parachute-qualified light airborne formation.
  • The SOF Regiment, which essentially is just the real MARSOC under a different structure type.
  • The Raider regiment, which unlike the real renamed “MARSOC” is meant (at least on paper) to be a more direct-action focus formation comparable to the traditional Army Rangers.

I’m sure there are very good reasons for not adopting an organization or formations like this in real life. Oh well. This is for thriller fiction and wargaming, after all.

The Growing MOUT Frontage

The Soviets had a love-hate relationship with city combat. On one hand, the pitfalls of something that went against their desire to move fast were very apparent. On the other, as the world became more built-up, they recognized it as a necessity. So in my relaxing reading of old field manuals, I decided to look up the frontage they desired in cities. Strictly defined frontages and unit boundaries were a trademark of them. Having both late 1940s and mid-1990s as my primary dates (because that was where I had the most detailed primary sources/analyses) wasn’t ideal, but oh well.

By the Heavy OPFOR/Genforce Era, the city block (generally 80-100 meters wide and 200-300 meters long) that had doctrinally taken a battalion or even entire regiment to storm fifty years earlier had been reduced to a reinforced company (whose reinforcements included SPHs meant to engage buildings with direct fire). Me being an detached armchair enthusiast, I’m wondering how much was better trust in a smaller unit with better training and communications and how much was the belief that they just had to walk over the rubble because their supporting firepower was so much greater.

And of course different circumstances would produce different geographical densities. But I still found it interesting. As was the shift of where the tanks should generally be compared to the infantry. With the Battle of Berlin undoubtedly in their minds, the most relevant statement in the early postwar regulations was “The mission of the tanks and the self-propelled artillery is to support the infantry attack with fire and shock action [note the “Fire” appearing first]”. Then much later their assault drills had the tanks usually going ahead of the infantry. Then after the uncomfortable experience of Chechnya, it shifted back to “the infantry should almost always go first unless the situation specifically calls for something otherwise”.

The Men’s Adventure Weapon That Could Have Been

There exists a Hungarian rifle called the GM6 Lynx. This semi-auto bullpup represents an attempt at making the comparably least bulky .50BMG rifle available. Although given the size of the cartridge, that’s a very tall order. It’s all relative.

Anyway, I bring this up because I find it interesting and not just for its own sake. My first thought to using this in fiction would be as an anti-monster gun, because it would be the comparably least clunky attempt to harm big beasties (given how the original King Kong eventually succumbed to lighter .30-06 bullets, a few people with these could probably take him down.) But then a different thought came to my mind. This gun came at the wrong time from the wrong country for fictional prominence.

See, men’s adventure writers unsurprisingly often focused on size and “exotic” qualities over practicality. Mack Bolan used a .460 Weatherby elephant gun. The Desert Eagle is actually reasonable compared to the infamously buggy Automag, but that was the weapon of choice before the former came into being. So my thought is “if a comparably small .50BMG rifle that wasn’t from a then-Soviet-aligned country existed at the height of the men’s adventure boom, you bet every action hero would be using it a lot.”

As it stands, a predecessor to the GM6 by the same manufacturer, the GM1 (which looks a lot more like the classic PTRD/M82 style .50 rifle), appeared in Phantom of Inferno, used by Ein on a sniper mission. The gun was almost as long as she was tall. It has since been used in fighting games as her super move.

The Minimum Viable Tank

M4 Shermans and T-34s saw service in many armies and many conflicts long after World War II. Their use after the Korean War and the export wave of Pattons/T-54s/Centurions has been interesting to me. It represents something that I’d call, for lack of a better word, the Minimum Viable Tank. Which is to say that against any other tank or any substantial anti-tank weapon, they’re hopelessly outclassed.

Yet they still can and still could do “tank things”. They have armor, they can move fast, and they can make things go boom. Thus the weird wargamer in me wants to go “just what can these minimum viable tanks accomplish?” And in many real cases, the answer has been “a lot”.

What adds to their appeal is that they were not found in the superpower armies directly. The US quickly ditched its remaining Shermans after Korea, and T-34s did not endure that long even in the lowest-category units once a glut of hand-me-down postwar tanks became available. But they were shipped abroad, and they did fight, meaning their presence likely indicates an obscure area.

The Advantages of Boxing Fiction

Boxing (or MMA, or any other individual combat sport) offers a few advantages when it comes to literature. The first is logistical. A boxing match can theoretically happen in any place big enough to fit a ring. Thus they can be, and have been staged in areas from small rooms to gigantic stadiums. Other sports require a specialized field, but officially sanctioned boxing matches have been held everywhere from mansion lawns to prisons.

The second is personal. While there are important trainers/promoters/managers/cut specialists, boxing is a clash between individuals in a way that any team sport is not. The character implications of this are obvious. Finally, the inherent shadiness of boxing makes it a perfect setting for a thriller or mystery story.