Questioning Civic Orthodoxy

Taking to Americans, especially White Americans, about any form of government different than what we have now is a huge exercise in futility.  Europeans at least have a couple of thousand years playing about with nations and states.  Northeast Asia has had some clever mixes of despotism.  But here, it’s always “1776!” and “muh Constitution!”

It’s not just because I know history so well.  There are plenty of folks who know history better than I do but flinch as if shot when I suggest that our federal republic has outlived its usefulness.  I really think it has to do with family:  that fact that mine is so old and predates the Republic helps, but is not the only factor.  Still, having ancestors is a tremendous psychological cushion, as it were, when looking at our day to day crises.

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Prednisone & Gabapentin

For the dog, not me.  I’m for the cheap wine, with some occasional gin in the warmer months.  See, for example, my recent post on Instagram (@machciv).  The story below follows immediately on that from my last blog post; I’d seen all of it, but was just too tired.  Bad news at work, bad news at home… it piles up.  Instead, let’s have three friends drink tea and nibble cookies on a rainy, Portland, Sunday afternoon!

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Pirate Twins 14, The Bridge at Andau, Reprised

Left DayJob an hour early.  When my boss asked why, I told her:  I’m ending the Cold War.  She really should know better than to speak to me.

There’s still a short coda I want to write, as this has been the oddest writing exercise in my life.  It began as just another escapade into Machine Civilization.  That mold broke very quickly, becoming an allegory of the Cold War, something only oldsters like me recall.

Old?  Very:  Tuesday was the 25th Anniversary of my better half and I.  Either her standards are very low, or I’m much better in bed than I realize.  Likely the former.

Once I write the coda – tomorrow – this will end up being about 18-19k words.  Who publishes ‘historical allegories’, these days?

Thanks, everyone, for reading!

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Pirate Twins 13: The Spy Who Loves Me

This was, originally, two posts:  I really wanted to get up and ahead one in case an outbreak of RealLife (TM) prevented me from finishing this no later than Friday.

But, it just didn’t work.  It was awful.  So I moved a couple of things and smoothed the transition (but I bet y’all can still see where it is) and am posting it.  Your win, my loss.  Sorta.

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Background:  Archimedes of Syracuse, per the orders of General Marcellus, is not killed in 212 BC by a Roman legionary but is brought to Rome to walk in that general’s triumph the following year.  Paroled, he spends the last five years of his life in an insula in the Suburra, successfully completing his notes on his invention of calculus.

Those notes, and the others recovered from his workshop in Syracuse, are used by Roman civil and military engineers over the next two hundred years to accelerate the growth and stability of the Late Republic’s provinces.  By the time of Octavian’s monarchy, Germania had been a province for one generation and Parthia for two.

Around 50 BC, the observer of natural phenomenon, Varro, formerly Pompey’s biographer, invents a primitive steam engine for use in mines and agriculture.  Circa 10 AD, Hero of Alexandria creates a cooling jacket that improves the efficiency of Varro’s engine by several orders of magnitude.  The Roman Empire enters the Steam Age.


Story:  (c. 100 AD) Marcus Quinctilius Justus Varus Pius, Justus to his co-workers, is a mid-level clerk in the Licinius SA international trading firm.  Besides his day-to-day actuarial duties, he spends most of his time trying to not be reminded that he is the sole surviving family member of “the last general that lost a Roman Army,” his great-grandfather, some ninety years ago.  However, because of his mother’s Parthian background and his knowledge of that language, he’s tapped as an assistant to a trade mission  – sanctioned by the Emperor himself – to the far land of Sirica (what we call China).  Roman and Serican traders meet all the time in India and the isle of Taprobane, but this was something different:  find an over-land route where Roman engineers could build a road for trade.  Or invasion.

After many adventures and close-calls, Justus and his party come to the borderlands of Serica.  There, in the city of Liqian, they have their first shock:  the citizens are the descendants of legionaries captured at the battles of Carrhae and Phraapsa and forcefully relocated to the Parthian NE frontier.  After so many years, are you here to guide us home, they ask?  Close on the heels of that, Justus quite by accident stumbles upon the Sirican’s greatest military secrets, and thus a chance to redeem his family’s name:  the powder that explodes.


Just an idea I had.  Thoughts?  And what would you call this?  Romepunk?  Marblepunk?

“We stand on the shoulders of giants”


Tuesday morning, the 20th, my father-in-law, Leslie Hanusz, died at home, in his bed, with his wife, daughters, and granddaughters, about the house.  A peaceful ending to what was otherwise an amazing life.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, June 17th, 1926, to a wealthy, industrialist family, his primary schooling was with the Piarist Fathers.  His secondary schooling was at a military academy in Marosvásárhely.  He graduated 2nd in his class and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant of cavalry in December 1944.  Assigned a platoon, he was sent to central Poland, and spent the remaining months of WWII trying not to be shot by the Red Army; his stories from this time are harrowing.

Rotated off the front lines two weeks before the German surrender, he and his men found themselves on a Danish island, POWs of the British Army.  Some months later, responding to a telegram from his father (the communists had taken all they had), Les resolved to return home.

He was arrested by the AVO (secret police) at the border and tortured for about three months.  Surprising his jailers by not dying, he was used as slave labor first in the fields by the River Tisza, then later as an excavator for the new metro lines under the Danube; decompression sickness and aneurisms killed many… his mother would use a hot iron on the nitrogen bubbles in his skin on his back when he came off shift.  ‘Paroled,’ but watched, he worked in the black, gray, and white market to help his family & friends.  When the Counter-revolution of late-1956 began, rather than immediately fleeing, he used his (rare) commercial driver’s license to shuttle hundreds to the Austrian border and freedom.  Only when the Russians came did he know it was time to go.  Sick with a high fever, he lied and bribed his way across the frontier.

Weeks later, he and some other Hungarian refugees were allowed – sponsored by Ed Sullivan – to immigrate to the US.  Working two jobs as a laborer, he began teaching himself English.  Through a mutual friend in the refugee community, he met Susanna Kerekes, whom he soon married.  Now working three jobs, one being a engineering draftsman for Dow Chemical, he came to the attention of the head of that department.  Given increasing difficult assignments – and constantly learning more engineering and receiving more professional certifications – in ten years Les was one of only a handful of men in the US that could design and certify very high-pressure vessels and pipelines, leading to his travelling constantly about the country, but always making time for his wife and two growing daughters, who, so taken with the marvel of a man they had for a father, became chemical engineers.

I first met him in the Spring of 1989, while dating one of those daughters.  He was pleasantly surprised to find someone who could keep up with his free-wheeling discussions of history and politics… even if I couldn’t keep up with him at drinking; try though I did.  Whether it was a Manhattan in the winter or a Martini in the summer, these conversations went on for over a quarter century.  His keen insights would surprise me every time.

After a couple of heart attacks and some joint replacement, he finally started slowing down around the age of 86.  He still kept in constant correspondence with friends now all over the world, but fewer every year.  He’d a hard first half of his life, but was certainly blessed for the second.  He was my father-in-law, but more importantly, my good friend.


Only fourteen days left until NaNoWriMo begins.  About a week ago I finally dug out the script I’d written for what would have  been the webcomic, Poisoned Hearts, thinking I recalled it well enough to serve as a first chapter.


While I did recall most of it, the characters were already reforming in my mind for the new story; so, personalities are different, huge timing changes . . . at least the locations….    Nope:  I’d reimagined what the lab at Neuroi looks like, based upon my horror short.

So as it is, what was a first chapter of material is now a stack of notes for Cursed Hearts.  That still puts me miles ahead of where I started two years ago with The Fourth Law:  one mental image and a 20-second sound bite.  Barring any unforeseen RealLife consequences – as such happened last November – I’m feeling very good about this project.  Of course it’s tempting to actively make notes now, but I think that violates the spirit of the month-long challenge.  Dreaming, okay; notes, not so much.

My other October project:  converting my father-in-law’s oral history into written history, has also not gone as well as I’d hoped.  Once I sat down to write all that I recalled as a framework for him to add onto, I realized just how much I’ve forgotten over the past ten years.  Sure, I can ‘see’ the images:  him and his cavalry detachment caught in the second floor of a Polish cheese factory when a Red Army platoon motors up.  Him in a AVO prison, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs to his right and a 2-star general to his left.  I think I shall reallocate this to January, when it’s dark and cold and we’re all inside (December will be given over to editing then publishing Cursed Hearts by Christmas).

Not much meat in this post, but that’s what happens when a writer is between project.  Expect things to get very interesting quite soon.  Cheers!



I know what I’m doing for NaNoWriMo this year.  So, what do I do with October?

Ah.  From a tangential mention from my beloved wife, I’m going to spend October writing down the facts my father-in-law has told me over the past quarter century… WWII, the Hungarian Gulag, his escape in 1956.  It lends itself to a story, but I want the facts down before he dies, so he can check it.  Should take no more than two weeks.

You’ll be hard pressed to believe it when you see the raw data.