Friday, February 6, 2015

Great War Centennial, Popular Culture, Sony Pictures, and the Legacy of Our Forgotten Heroes





I begin by apologizing in advance for breaking my rule of keeping this blog of mine focused entirely on my hobby and various historical topics, however a certain serendipity of events compels me to do so this once, as I regard the topic to be of too great an importance for me to remain silent on the matter.

I was recently contacted by the nonprofit organization Color of Change asking me to sign a petition directed at Sony Pictures calling for the firing of studio head Amy Pascal in light of revelations of Pascal's appallingly racist beliefs exposed in her e-mails made public by hackers.  While I do not condone hacking in principle as it is a grievous violation of privacy even on a good day, the exposure of Pascal's disgustingly self evident racism was simply too egregious for me to feel much sympathy for her being the victim of such an event. As a consequence and given both the gravity of Pascal's comments and her level of authority within one of the largest corporate media entities on the planet, I felt compelled to add the following comment to my signature on the ColorofChange.org petition to Sony Pictures:




"Amy Pascal has demonstrated through her comments and correspondence that she is an American willfully ignorant of our nation's history, and willfully disrespectful of and ambivalent to the service of many tens of thousands of Black Americans in our Armed Forces in harm's way as I write this comment. 

Ms. Pascal's despicable lack of respect and frankly wretched lack of awareness of this irrefutable reality demonstrates a gross lack of fitness on her part to serve in any capacity of responsibility public or private sector alike. 

Ms. Pascal has demonstrated that she is either unaware of or simply dismissive of the fact that many hundreds of thousands of Black Americans have served in every war our nation has been engaged in since our War of Independence, and many tens of thousands of them having given their lives in defense of our nation. 

Ms. Pascal has through her racist, willfully ignorant correspondence and pathetically tone deaf responses to the all too predictable outrage of Americans of every ethnicity and faith over her revealed comments shown she has either no knowledge of or a gross disregard for the history of service of the Black American veterans of the 332nd Fighter Group, the 761st Tank Battalion, the 369th Infantry, the 371st Infantry, the 372nd Infantry, and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment just to name a handful of the Black American combat units that served so gallantly in our nation's defense.

Amy Pascal has demonstrated that she cares not one whit for the heroism of Corporal Freddie Stowers or Sgt. Henry Johnson during the First World War. She has shown she has no respect or regard for their memories, nor the memories of Staff Sgt. Ruben Rivers or Private George Watson, who gave their lives in the service of their country, sacrificing themselves to save the lives of their comrades. 

Amy Pascal has shown she cares not one whit for the heroism and sacrifices of men like 1st Lt. Charles L. Thomas, who suffered grievous wounds while commanding his gun battery under fire, yet continued to lead his men in an exemplary fashion until he was overcome by blood loss. She has shown that she has no respect for the heroism and sacrifice of 1st Lt. John R. Fox, who gave his life in the struggle to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation. Lt. Fox singlehandedly held back a German attack to enable his unit to escape being overrun and wiped out by a superior enemy force, remaining in a second floor observation post directing artillery fire on the attacking Germans. Lt. Fox single-handedly accounted for circa 100 German soldiers, and saved his comrades from death or capture at the cost of his own life.

These are just a few of the Black Americans Amy Pascal has demonstrated she holds in such utter contempt. Now that Amy Pascal has stepped down, the question is begged, does the leadership of Sony Pictures share her contempt for these brave Americans who risked their lives in defense of our nation, many at the cost of their own lives, or not?

The actions of the leadership of Sony Pictures will answer this question. I for one speaking as a military historian and educator am fully aware that this is the centennial of the First World War. I am also as an avid filmgoer fully aware that to date no feature length motion picture depiction of the sacrifices and gallantry of the Black American doughboys who served with extraordinary courage and determination on the Western Front during the First World War has ever been made. 

This means that to date while the world may yet remember the story of Corporal Alvin York thanks to Gary Cooper's depiction of him in the film Sgt. York, we have no movie depicting the heroism, leadership by example, and battlefield skill of Henry Johnson or Freddie Stowers. While we have movies representing the valor of the Lost Battalion (The Lost Battalion) or the exploits of the Lafayette Escadrille (Flyboys). we have no film to date dramatizing the life and adventures of Eugene Bullard or the tremendous endurance and courage of the men of the 371st and 372nd "Red Hands."

I personally am challenging you, Sony Pictures, to step up to the plate, and put your words of contrition into action. "




So there you have it. We are at this moment in the centennial of the First World War, a global conflict the consequences of which we are still very much experiencing, a conflict that had a profound impact on the shaping of the world we live in today. Further, for all of their billions of dollars spent upon movie productions that result in endless retellings of formulaic fluff and nonsense entertainment, I for one have yet to see anyone pick up the gauntlet of presenting the tales of courage and fortitude of the Black American doughboys of the Great War, let alone present on the silver screen the life in some reasonable depth and honesty of the first Black American fighter pilot, Eugene Bullard.




While I have few doubts that Sony Pictures will actually heed my comments on the deplorable Ms. Pascal, hope springs eternal, and perhaps someone will finally use the medium of film to recreate the astonishing heroism of and tragic injustices heaped upon the "Red Hands" during their time of service in the Great War. Or perhaps the memory of Eugene Jaques Bullard will be immortalized in film as it deserves, his tale of tragedy, injustice at the hands of Jim Crow racism, triumph as a decorated soldier in the Legion Etranger and later a fighter pilot for France, only to end his days in impoverished obscurity, unknown and unrecognized by his native land, but rnot forgotten by a grateful French Republic.

For those of you interested in an in-depth look at the experiences of the Black American doughboys during the First World War, I very highly recommend The Unknown Soldiers: African-American Troops in World War I by Arthur E. Barbeau and Florette Henri. 

You can also pick up a crash course in the subject matter in Osprey Publishing's Buffalo Soldiers 1892-1918 by Ron Field. This is the second installment of Mr. Field's works for Osprey on the subject of the Black American soldiers of the U.S. Army covering the period spanning aftermath of the American Civil War through the Indian Wars of the last half of the 19th century, to the end of the First World War. I highly recommend all three books as a quick yet readable and very informative education on this neglected subject matter.



Friday, January 30, 2015

WIPs, BIG Models for Starship Gaming, and a Really Big Space Station....

As the title says, this is a continuation of the last installment, a WIP Part Deux of my mad project of adapting a 1/1000 scale Garmillas dreadnought to use as a Silent Death destroyer class warship, a really big kitbashed orbital station for use in same, plus some other large models for use in this classic space fighter combat game!

So, for you consideration Dear Readers, we begin with that Gaiderol-class battlewagon I'm transforming into a heavy destroyer bristling with torpedo tubes:






Impressive beastie, neh? Next up, some more of the Yamato-verse, specifically the old EDF cruiser model repurposed as a Silent Death Warhound:





Yes, that is the kitbashed orbital platform I just finished, and the smaller escort vessel if the new Yamato Mecha Colle Garmillas Warship mini kit from the new Yamato 2199 series. Interestingly enough, the exchange rate at the moment between the U.S. Dollar and the Yen is such that the older EDF cruiser model kit is not much more expensive than the newer and smaller Mecha Colle kit, and the prices are seriously low, with the EDF cruiser being less than $5.00, while the smaller, newer Garmillas ship is around $3.00 at the moment. The fighter miniature in the foreground is a Silent Death: The Next Millennium "Death Wind" TPAC ("Two Person Attack Conveyance," which is SD:TNM-speak for "two seater space fighter").

As for that kitbashed orbital station...



I used some old Zoid parts, two plastic cosmetic jar lids, assorted toy parts including some old Buck Rogers boardgame energy cannon pieces, a large plastic sequin for a radar dish, various plastic rhinestones, and a few model parts to build this orbiting abomination up. I specifically built it around a large plastic bead I placed on a standard plastic flight base, then added parts around it until I reached the final form. After spray priming it flat black, I painted the whole contraption by hand with water based acrylic craft paints, some decals from the spares box, and a shot of Testor's Dullcote. The fighter miniature in the second photo is a "Sorenson III" class patrol TPAC, shown here finished in the colors of one of the semi-regular militia fighter units of the Unkulunkulu Archipelago Defense Forces. The overall colors are cribbed from the pre-WW2 U.S. Navy's Neutrality Patrol colors used on carrier-based fighter aircraft, with the Rastafarian wing flashes of my Unkulunkulu fighter unit, a hodge-podge of types of ships ranging from small single-seaters to several heavy gunboats.

I freely admit that I shamelessly draw from actual history for inspiration in selecting paint schemes for my sci-fi projects, and my rather hefty collection of Silent Death fighters and such is no exception. If you get stuck on colors for your project, break out some books on historical military vehicles or aircraft. Remember: "Talents create," wrote Oscar Wilde, and "...geniuses steal!"

Next Installment: The Gaiderol finished (and other mischief).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

It's a New Year....

So here's some new photos for everyone's amusement, a mix of work in progress and completed projects in need of some attention from my camera! 

So, we begin where we left off, with the 1/1000 scale Gamilas dreadnought model from Yamato 2199 produced by Bandai. The two-hex base is the result of my gluing the vertical post that came with the kit to a Litko Aerosystems acrylic two-hex movement base. The balance is perfect, and the presence of the model once it's done will be impressive to say the least. I have gotten the overall paint scheme to where I like it: 








The next step will be to add a few remaining detailing parts, some additional painted details, and decals to finish the ship with a suitable insignia and hull number. 

Moving along we next have a series of 15mm sci fi AFVs from Darkest Star Games. The first up is the Terran Scorpion 8x8 AFV. The kit comes with a selection of weapons and turret bustle options, a real boon to kitbashers such as myself for conversions and kitbashing projects alike:



These are part of a work in progress unit of mid-tech wheeled AFVs I've started using my existing accumulation of unfinished projects and resources. I have seven unbuilt Combat Wombat 8x8 AFVs, plus some assorted Matchbox 6x6 softskins and some 6x6 versions of the 4x4 VAB APCs I used in an earlier project (and chronicled on this very blog previously). I wanted to add a heavy anti-armor support asset to this mechanized light cavalry brigade, and Matchbox came to the rescue with their Real Working Rigs series Stryker, which with a little help from the left over bits from the Darkest Star Games Scorpions let me produce a suitably hefty beast to back up my Scorpions:




Next up are the Ventauran medium tank and APC, the meat 'n potatoes opponents of the Terran Federation forces produced by Darkest Star, along with the new Ventauran infantry figures produced by Darkest Star Games to accompany the vehicle ranges (the Terran Federation infantry have also just been released fairly recently, and they look da bomb!):





The posing and animation of the Ventaurans is dynamic to say the least. They come in a pack of eleven different poses, a mix of officer, NCO, two scoped heavy rifles, and the rest with assorted rifles or carbines. The AFVs come with two gun turret options apiece. Naturally, I used one turret and saved the others for kitbashing projects later on (and rest assured, I will post photos of those when the time comes!).

Finally, there's the end result of a bit of unscheduled dumpster diving on my part. One evening soon after Xmas I took the trash out to the bin and lo and behold there sitting atop the rubbish was a discarded, old, worn out smart phone protective cover and the plastic case that the new protective case had clearly come in. I was instantly inspired by the detailing of the protective case AND the container, and in less time than it takes to type these words, I was beelining back into my office, cackling maniacally all the way!

Here is the result of that chance encounter at the dumpster, a 28mm armored anti-grav APC with a definite Rogue Trader/2000 A.D. vibe that frankly all but built itself thanks to the shape and details of the original materials involved:






I'll be taking advantage of the rectangular opening in the top of the smartphone case to retrofit a vehicle commander figure and additional automatic weapon (like I didn't load this bugger down enough already!). Oh, and yes, the dozer bumper on the front of the machine is indeed the space bar from a broken keyboard!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Wrap-up and Various Starship Minis and Models!

So. It's been a year already?! Yow! Well, going onward into the New Year I'll be working my way through my accumulated hoard, and that includes continuing to recycle with an attitude as time and opportunities (and irresistible finds rescued from the recycle bins and dumpsters) permit!

This installment is focused on subjects nostalgic and near and dear to my cold, evil little heart! To begin with, the very first starship miniatures I ever owned -and this means circa 1975!- were the Stardate 3000 series produced by Valiant Enterprises. I first encountered them at San Antonio Hobby Shop so long ago, with no set of war-game rules for starship combat with miniatures then available that I knew of (or the shop carried!). But having already been bitten and hard by the sci-fi bug, I was taken with these intriguing models Terran and Alien, and bought several in the hopes that eventually a solution to the rules problem would present itself.

So long ago, and those ships that I lovingly spray painted in red (AGGGH!!), and they have been lost to the mists of time and multiple moves. But many years later I happened to rediscover Valiant Enterprises, and yes, they still had the moulds, and yes, they were going to put them back into production, so as soon as I had the money to spare, I treated myself to some of these classic models, and then of course, life got in the way of life, and they languished half finished buried in a box in storage until just last week I rediscovered the project, and having some small amount of spare time on my hands as I wait for my thesis committee to make up their minds about my mad ravings scrawled on a napkin that is my master's thesis, I made a point to finish them!

So, after too many decades and without further ado, here they are for your presentation, my Terran task group of Stardate 3000 ships for your consideration:



Working from the bottom photo, we have from left to right a pair of Draco class destroyers, an Atreides class armed merchant vessel, and an orion class heavy battlecruiser. I always liked the modular look of these models, as they echo the speculative designs of the Apollo days, with a good dose of Gerry Anderson and Space 1999 thrown in for good measure. 

This little group will have a batch of fighter craft added later, and is meant to represent a small task group with the Atreides "Liberty ship" carrying a planetary expeditionary force. The Dracos cover the Atreides, and the Orion brings the heavy firepower support. Bob's yer uncle, Charlie's yer aunt (and the planet is now ours)!

Moving along to what's gotten done of late, some months ago I got my hands on one of the Yamato 2199 Garmillas ship sets as a congratulatory present for completing my thesis (a gift from my Significantly Better Half in fact). These new kits are state-of-the-art tooling for injection moulded plastic models, and the crispness and precision of the tooling, the level of detailing all add up for some very beautiful models that are a pleasure to build. 

being ever the adaptive creature that I am, I instantly recognized the utility of the three starships contained in the set for use in Silent Death: The Next Millennium as escort class warships (aka., Warhounds). The two Garmillas destroyers were simply perfect as well, erm, destroyers, so I got to work and built them both as is, finishing them in a "generic" three color scheme I like to think of as a "nebula pattern camouflage." Oh, and yes, there are two (2) of 'em in the set, so this set is a real bargain, really given that the Yen is weak compared to the U.S. Dollar of late:


The two DDs are shown here with a trio of Kashmere Commonwealth Surya class fighters and a pair of Reviresco starships minis adapted as Black Widow stand-ins. The matching color theme was a happy accident, really, as the Suryas and the two Black Widow proxies were also some unfinished business I duly finished while I was at it, and I happened to use much the same colors and the same decals I had in the spares box to get the whole lot of 'em done in the same period of time.

Here's some more shots of the two DDs with the Kashmeri ships thrown in for a point of visual and size reference:






I plan to post stats and a ship display sheet for these Garmilas destroyers on the Metal Express page some time early in the New Year, and that will also include the classic Mecha Colle mini kit of the similar Garmilas heavy cruiser that is slightly smaller than this impressive beastie. 

Now, as if these aren't visually impressive enough, here's one of the original Space battleship Yamato kits, the Earth Defense Force Heavy Cruiser model that is currently less than $5.00 a pop plus shipping on HobbyLink Japan, a work in progress mounted on a Litko Aerosystems two hex flight stand with the Kashmeri fighters hanging around for a size reference:


The original radar array that sits on top of the bridge is annoyingly fragile, so breakage was all but inevitable, but I expect to find a suitable, more robust replacement in my spares supply. I'm finishing this impressive beauty and two sisters along a House Tokugawa theme for Silent Death, and plan to stat them out as 10,000 ton destroyers. I deliberately altered the original eight gun flak battery on the stern into two quad gun mounts dorsal and ventral covering the rear arcs of the vessel, as there are no eight gun weapon systems in Silent Death (and I prefer to have multiple multi-barreled cannons covering my six, thank you very much!).

Finally here's a work in progress shot of the Big Dog of the Garmilas ship set, an S-class Dreadnought that is the centerpiece of the set and the backbone capital ship design of the Greater Garmilas Imperium of the Yamato 2199 universe:



I used a Litko Aerosystems two-hex base and the upright is for the display stand that came with the model. I simply Krazy glued it to the Litko base, and I'll spray the whole ensemble flat black and fill in the peg holes. The ship itself is light enough that it is stable on this kitbashed base. I've a great deal more to do with it to finish, but overall I am pleased with the basic dark blue over light grey finish. 

I'll crunch the numbers to run this beastie as a destroyer, and then go from there to a larger vessel such as a light cruiser, as I've written some rough and ready rules for larger tonnage warships for Silent Death to make "Sink the Bismark" style scenarios practical. 

So there it all is for everyone's consideration! Have a Happy New Year, and we'll see you on the other side of the galaxy in 2015! :)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

"Libertad o Morir!" Mexican American War Armies in 1/72 Scale!

I painted up a bunch of 1/72 scale Reviresco Mexican-American War figures -two complete war-game armies' worth in fact!- a number of years ago as a private commission for a friend of mine. Like all Reviresco figures, these are white metal alloy (lead-tin), and were originally sculpted in the old school method of lost wax. John McEwan is a fan of this fascinating period of American military history, and did extensive research on the uniforms, weapons, and equipment of the antagonists. His figures have quite a bit of detail that reflects his efforts, and despite their age once painted up these figures look quite effective on the wargame table. 

Being 1/72 scale, they mix quite well with the 1/72 scale plastic figures from Imex covering the Mexican-American War, so between the two sources it's relatively easy to build up quite impressive armies to refight the battles of the period in miniature.

So I had finished up these two opposing armies for an old friend, and he took delivery of them, and I thought that was the last of the matter. A couple of years later when Sandra and I announced that we were pulling up stakes and moving to Texas, my friend gave me the complete set of two armies plus some extras he'd done to match as a going away present(!!!). The two armies have since languished in storage, never once seeing any use by me on the war-games table. 

Here for your viewing pleasure are the two armies unit by unit, a total of 52 mounted figures, 83 foot, 6 guns, and a supply cart complete with powder barrels and dozing civilian driver...



The U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps of the Mexican-American War:



U.S. Army Regular Infantry Regiment


Mixed Regiment of U.S. Marines and sailors armed with 
boarding pikes(!). These were painted by my friend 
Dave Smith (and like John McEwan, Dave is a fan of 
California history).


U.S. Marine company and mounted general


U.S. Army Foot Artillery and U.S. Navy landing party artillery (I painted the former, while Dave handled the Navy artillery)


U.S. Army horse artillery limbered up and on the move


Rear view of horse artillery. The gun is separate and with the dismounted guard figures can be depicted on the war-game table as deployed for action. This gives the American army's player a third gun with more mobility than their Mexican Army opponent.


U.S. Army 1st Dragoon Regiment including civilian scout.


U.S. Army dragoons dismounted in firing line 
with skirmishers forward.



No, that American officer is not riding to get away from a bunch of Californio lancers intent on skewering him with their lances! This is in fact a unique U.S. Army intelligence gathering recon unit, the Mexican Spy Company. Deliberately wearing hats and uniform jackets that mimicked those worn by the Mexican lancer units and carrying lances with a red pennant, the Mexican Spy Company was able to scout deep into Mexican-controlled areas and deceive their opponents as to their true identity at a distance. The Native American scout was also a feature of the U.S. Army of the period, where such warriors were highly prized for their fieldcraft skills.

Dave handled the Spy Company, while I did the hell-for-leather mounted officer. 


The Mexican Army of Generalissimo Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana:



Mexican Army Regulares


More Mexican Regulares


Presidial Lancers painted by Dave Smith.


Presidial Lancers at the charge!


Californios! Presidial Lancers with their unique lance 
pennant declaring "Liberty or Death!"


And they meant it! "Libertad o Morir!" 

Note: As of this writing my dratted camera battery quit on me just before I could shoot photos of the Mexican Army's artillery and Californio militia infantry company (#$@%!!!). As soon as I am able I will add photos of these remaining units to this blog entry as an edit...

I have to thank mi amiga Rosana over at La Baguette, who so kindly helped me with the proper Mexicano Espanol rendering for the slogan on the lance pennants  as none of my reference sources I had at the time gave the original Spanish language rendering of "Liberty or Death!" 

So. I can't keep from making new models and painting up more figures, and while I am fascinated enough by the period as a native Californian, I can't justify keeping around two armies I am never likely to use! So, this collection is looking for a new home! 

I've posted the collection on my Etsy store site (RecycleAttitude) and priced the lot to move, and the sooner the better as I want to make room for more sci-fi projects (especially a whole bunch of new Yamato 2199 starship kits)! 

So if you want to take the plunge into this fascinating period with two ready-to-use painted armies, here's your chance, as I really want them to find a good home where the two may do heroic battle across the green felt of a wargaming table as they were meant to do, rather than just sitting nestled in bubble wrap in a storage bin at the bottom of a pile of other bins marked "Sci-Fi terrain" and "Misc. Junk!"