Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Didact's review of HALO 5: Guardians

And I haven't even finished playing the game yet.

I will, eventually, write up a longer review of the game, once my brain gets scraped off the ceiling and my head is pieced back together...

Happy HELLOWEEN 2015

Man, this song never gets old:

It's so good, in fact, that HELLOWEEN recorded two separate follow-ups to it. And then they recorded an "orchestral" version of all three in a medley, which I personally think is some of their best work ever:

If you have kids, remember... candy is bad for their teeth, but heavy metal is good for their health.

I mean, just look at me. I turned out pretty well.

Nickname: Ur-Didact
Especially my teeth.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Yep, pretty much

If you look really closely, you can see me- #4508- lurking very far away there in the background. I'm the one in the Promethean Warrior-Servant outfit wielding a lightrifle and a hardlight blade. (I'm a big fan of the former- great for both medium-range engagements and long-range sniping. The latter, maybe not so much, but then I prefer cudgels to blades, personally.)

And yet the people over at File770 still don't understand who we are and what we are all about. I mean, it really isn't that hard to figure out.

An evergreen legend

"U Can't Touch This", Federer Edition
It's worth taking a break once in a while from ranting about politics, the war against Islam, the war for the culture, and HALO to point out that, even in these dark and cynical days, there is still one man who seems to defy the ravages of time:
Inevitably, an aging tennis player can't escape questions of retirement, whether or not he's playing at the highest echelon of the game. 
This has been the unenviable fate of Roger Federer for the past four years. No matter how well he's playing -- he's No. 3 on the ATP rankings -- the inquiry keeps popping up. 
So Federer, 34, recently decided to spare fans any speculation as to his 2016 plans. 
"I have quite a clear idea how the schedule could look," Federer told reporters at the recent Shanghai Masters. "I'll be playing through the end of next year, actually. There's some moving parts, which I still don't know. But I have a bit of a very good idea what I think I want to do." 
Not even a family of six -- Federer's twin daughters are 6 years old and his twin sons are 17 months -- can slow him down. The nomadic lifestyle clearly works for them. 
Included in his plan is a steadfast desire to go for gold at the Rio Olympics next season. Federer already has a gold medal in doubles from the 2008 Beijing Games and a silver in singles from London four years ago. 
"Of course, Rio is one of the priorities of next year," Federer said. "It's not the only one. It's going to be a different type of schedule next year because of the Olympic year. It's always like that, when there's a bit of a change in the calendar." 
Federer's play this season proved he is still capable of winning Grand Slam titles, having reached the Wimbledon and US Open finals. In both of those events, he lost to No. 1 Novak Djokovic in four sets. But it's not as if Federer can't beat Djokovic; he did so twice this season, in the Dubai and Cincinnati finals. 
When asked whether he could add to his 17 Grand Slam titles, Federer was reflective. 
"We shall find out next year if I'm going to make it or not," Federer said. "Novak's definitely the man to beat at the moment. He's had an unreal season again. He's not only doing it at the Slams, but he's also doing it on the tour week in, week out. It's tough to break that for any player right now. I think the player's got their work cut out for them." 
In 1969, legend Rod Laver won his second season Grand Slam. Although he wasn't quite 30 yet, he had been around the game a long time and understood the potential travails of older players. 
Now 77 years old, Laver, who was a guest at the Shanghai Masters, still has a keen eye when it comes to vetting talent. 
"I think if you love the game and you enjoy it, there's no end," Laver told reporters. "You don't have to just say that's it. [Federer] is playing great tennis. I almost think he's playing better tennis now than he was a couple of years ago." 
Of late, Federer has made adjustments to his game, playing more aggressively and eagerly ending points earlier, a methodology for conserving energy. His serve and forehand have changed a bit and he's even added a half-volley return to his arsenal, a shot he first tried in practice as a joke. [Didact: This is known as the "SABR"- "Sneak Attack By Roger"- and it is a thing of beauty to watch on the roughly 40% or so of the attempts where it actually works.]
Watching the GOAT play over the last two years under the tutelage of Stefan Edberg has been something of a revelation. Roger Federer simply defies the years, and the mileage, with his dazzling shotplay and seemingly effortless on-court movement. He's playing less frequently now than he used to during the height of his reign in 2006 and 2007, yet he's still unquestionably the second-best player on the tour.

And indeed, Federer has added several new tricks to his already considerable arsenal. Just look at what happens when the SABR actually works:

For another, his already considerable mastery of the art of the humblebrag appears to have ascended to ever more ridiculous heights this year.

And then, of course, there are his epic hot-dogs. Now, these have to be seen to be truly appreciated for their ridiculous awesomeness:

Just look at that expression on Novak's face after that absurdly amazing tweener. It simply says, "Eff. My. Life.".

Now, that's not to say that Roger Federer is entirely without flaw.

When the inevitable debates about whether or not he is the greatest tennis player of all time are held after he retires, the naysayers will inevitably focus on the fact that his two greatest contemporary rivals, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, have his number. In Nadal's case, the margin is a staggering 23-10 in Nadal's favour; in Djokovic's case, the two are tied at 21 apiece.

Given that, when the almighty Pete Sampras retired, he had a career edge over his greatest rival, Andre Agassi, of 20-14, the fact that Rafael Nadal has so convincingly trounced the greatest player of his, and probably any other, generation, is going to fuel the fires of that debate for many years to come.

For me, though, there simply isn't any debate. Federer is the greatest ever. I've never seen anyone play like him- and once you've seen him play, in full flow with his sharply-angled winners, his impossible-to-read serve, his aggressive net tactics, and his seemingly effortless athleticism, nothing else comes close.

His rivals are beasts on the court; their styles of play involve brute force and physicality and raw aggression. But Federer floats above it all, ruthlessly dispatching all but the most difficult opponents with what looks like very little hard work- but in reality is the product of nearly thirty years of training, dedication, and truly staggering levels of God-given talent.

And I fear that we will not see his like again in our lifetimes.

So enjoy the Swiss maestro's quality while you can. We are watching the twilight years of a champion without peer, a man about whom enough accolades and superlatives will probably never be found. And we are truly privileged to be able to watch such a great athlete moving toward the inevitable with such self-assurance, still capable of winning against younger, faster, and stronger rivals through sheer skill and force of will.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The coming of the tide

That speech from Bill Whittle is from nearly 3 years ago, right after the electoral disaster- and that is what it was- of November 2012. In it, he raises a number of critically important points that I think need to be kept in mind as America enters yet another election cycle. (Honestly, what is it with Americans and elections? I seem to remember some bewildered Limey writing in a newspaper column somewhere that, in America, there is always an election going on somewhere... And God love you crazy bastards for it.)

The Message, Not the Messenger

The first point that Bill brings up is crucial, and it explains a very great many of the reasons why conservatives- real conservatives, not cuckservatives and Churchians- keep losing so badly in elections. As he puts it, most of the Republicrat Republican Party does not believe its own message.

Think about it. When was the last time that you heard a Republican really delivering the supposed small-government, low-taxes, individual-responsibility message that is, in theory anyway, the platform of the party itself?

Answer: not since Ronald Reagan.

That's right. It has been more than 30 years since this country last had a true outsider, a conservative who actually believed in, lived by, and upheld actual conservative virtues and values, as a spokesman for those same values.

And even St. Reagan of the Right was far from perfect in this regard. Most American conservatives do not remember, do not know, or simply choose to forget, that as Governor of California, Mr. Reagan signed into law what were at the time the biggest tax increases in the state's history. He also signed into law- apparently after much hesitation and soul-searching- an abortion bill, which he later claimed to regret deeply.

Those faults are President Reagan's to own. To his considerable credit, he did own up to them. He was one of the only conservatives in living memory to campaign on a platform that he actually believed in.

When Mr. Reagan gave that magnificent speech of his, "A Time for Choosing", he was in his early fifties, and had spent nearly thirty years making a slow metamorphosis from a "Roosevelt liberal" who believed in Social Security and the welfare state, into a rock-ribbed conservative capable of articulating those values. He had spent that time honing his message, refining his public speaking skills, and coming up with a set of ideas and policies that resonated with the American public in a way that no Presidential candidate has since been able to manage.

And the reason why he seemed to simply make sense is because, deep down, he really believed in the ideas that he was marketing. Never mind that, while he was in office, he actually failed to live up to his own rhetoric; almost every President, ever, has failed in this regard. Never mind that, during his time, the national debt exploded and, despite a badly needed military rearmament and modernisation programme, altogether too much money went to useless projects like the B-1 bomber.

Never mind all of that. The point is, Reagan believed in his own message, with every fibre of his being. And that, ultimately, is why he won.

Remember that when Reagan ran for President, he was already independently wealthy, had worked in politics for many years, and was perfectly content in the early 1970s to simply work the land at his ranch and enjoy his retirement. He campaigned in 1976 because of his anger at the ineptitude of the Ford Administration. He didn't need to run, but he did it anyway.

His message made sense in a way that the last few standard-bearers of the Republican Party simply have not been able to match. Compare his upbeat, straightforward, unapologetic patriotism and belief in free enterprise with the constant uncomfortable dodging and ducking that both John McCain and Mitt Romney went through when asked point-blank about their considerable wealth. The latter two "conservatives" couldn't defend the values that they supposedly represented, and that is ultimately why they lost- because they were totally unconvincing as spokesmen for their party.

Modern cuckservatives claim to represent bedrock values of Flag, faith, family, and fiscal rectitude. But the moment they are subjected to the slightest bit of criticism, they react the way any victim of severe and repeated abuse does: they back down and apologise for their temerity in speaking out against the conventional wisdom.

This will not stand. Enough backing down. Enough of appeasement. Enough of "moderation". Enough of refusing to use our enemies' tactics against them because we fear that it makes us "like them". Our means may need to be similar, but our ends are utterly different.

It is time for war- and not with words, either.

And war cannot be fought by craven cowards who refuse to stand up for what they know in their hearts is right. It is well past time to cast them aside.

Our enemies- and that is what they are, enemies- have brought us war for the last fifty years. They have attacked and successfully infiltrated and then subverted our most cherished institutions- up to and including the Holy Mother Church. The Constitution means less to them than two-ply toilet paper. This country's magnificent traditions of liberty and individual rights, of self-governance, restraint, discipline, and upstanding Christian morality, are now considered disposable and useless. In their place, government handouts, executive fiat, and endless, pointless wars on imaginary enemies are waged while our real enemies operate freely, out in the open.

This war is here, now, today. The "moderates", the cuckservatives, are far more prone to attacking us, their supposed allies, than they are to taking the fight to the true enemy. In such a war, they are unreliable at best, traitorous at worst. They cannot and should not be trusted.

There is no point fighting such a war through the electoral process- that is irretrievably broken. Given the rampant voter fraud that we know occurred during the 2012 election, there is no integrity whatsoever in that system. It cannot be trusted; progressives and SJWs have ensured that they have a hammerlock on it now. And they got there by waging, and winning, a 40-year-long war on the culture.

Which brings us to the next important theme...

Pop-Culture Prophets

The second key point that Mr. Whittle brings up is that the next great conservative candidate will not come from the political classes. He- and it will be a man- will come from the popular culture.

Mr. Whittle predicted this in 2012. Back then, we still didn't know the full extent of Barack Obama's incompetence, mendacity, pettiness, narcissism, or epic stupidity. We didn't know just how far he would push his authority beyond its lawful bounds under the fig-leaf of Constitutional cover for his executive orders. We didn't know how useless he would be at using the world's most powerful- and yet, largely strategically ossified- military in fighting Islam, the true enemy of the entire civilised world. We didn't know how utterly incompetent he would be at securing America's borders. And we sure as hell didn't know the lengths he would go to in order to strip Americans of their God-given rights.

We know now. I am sure I don't have to tell most Americans just how astonishingly painful that experience was.

We also know, now, that the old electoral calculus will not hold.

I distinctly remember how, six months ago, it was a foregone conclusion that Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio would be the next Republican nominee for President. I could not imagine a more depressing prospect than yet another woolly-headed, mealy-mouthed "compassionate conservative" running for office- and failing miserably, and then going down to an "honourable defeat".

I have seen enough of that nonsense to last two lifetimes.

Yet here we are, just a little over a year to go to the next election, and the "establishment" candidates are sucking wind. Meanwhile, the candidates that are romping ahead in the polls are from the popular culture- not Washington insiders, but actual people with actual accomplishments behind them.

Do not mistake my words. I do not believe that Donald Trump is any kind of conservative. I have no idea what he truly believes. I think he talks a brilliant game- he's a superb marketer, after all. But would he make a good President, given that he is on the record as going against everything he supposedly believes in today? No.

It says a very great deal about how far America has fallen that a reality TV star and a "tycoon" who has actually filed for business bankruptcy several times, is now considered the best possible candidate for a conservative nomination.

I have little patience for Ben Carson; maybe it's because I'm not white myself, and maybe it's because I have a certain degree of perspective on slavery and racism that most white Americans don't (since they've been clubbed over the head with the narrative that they are all KKK members-in-waiting since grade school just because they are white), but I simply do not see the point of a black Republican candidate running for President, just to prove that Republicans really aren't racist. If Republicans had the slightest shred of sense, they would simply point out that Martin Luther King was a Republican, that blacks had voted solidly Republican between about 1870 and 1930, and that blacks were once probably the most culturally conservative and most religious people in America during that time. Instead of attempting to "understand" the degenerate state of modern black culture, they might actually succeed if they stopped attempting to apologise for being Republicans and started believing in their own message.

Instead of attempting to apologise to black people for sins both real and perceived- mostly the latter, really- real conservatives need to forcefully articulate that there is a real race war going on right now. And it is a war in which blacks are, unquestionably, the aggressors. It is a war that they will lose, if the white majority finally loses patience and begins dealing with the problem properly.

Ben Carson is not the man to articulate any of this.

And as for Carly Fiorina... well, let's just say that a failed CEO of one of the world's biggest tech companies was promoted well above her level of incompetence; putting her in the White House would be the finest demonstration of the dangers of the Peter Principle since Barack Odumbass.

Yet such is the sorry state in which this nation finds itself. The candidates most likely to be elected by conservatives- real conservatives, of which there are more than a few still left- do not come from establishment politics. They come from the culture. And the establishment has no idea how to react- because they cannot understand the seething fury that their own incompetence, recklessness, and stupidity have brought on.

The K-selected Backlash

The last point to remember is that civilisations always go through cycles. I described this phenomenon a while back and pointed out that America is well into Stage 5 of the cycle. The collapse of America as a sovereign political entity is by this time virtually guaranteed; the loss of its once proud traditions of individual liberty and personal responsibility will go with it. And I very much fear that we will not see its like again in my lifetime.

When you consider that I'm only in my early thirties, and can expect to live a good long while yet, that is a scary thought indeed.

Yet there is hope, nonetheless. The reason we have fallen this far is because we are victims of the great successes of previous generations. Our forefathers worked and built and sacrificed to create a better future for themselves and their children. It was their hard work and vision that created the most prosperous and powerful civilisation the world has ever seen. It cannot be stressed hard enough that one small, damp, grey, rocky, miserable island in the North Atlantic, with grumpy people and lousy weather and terrible food, created an empire so vast, so powerful, and so influential that, at its height the Sun never truly set upon it. And it must be remembered that the greatest of that empire's offspring took over its parent's role in a transition of power so seamless and so straightforward that future historians will look upon the hegemony of the Anglosphere as essentially one five-hundred-year epoch.

All civilisations wither and die eventually. Virtually all of them are hollowed out from within before being conquered from without. It is the process of that hollowing-out that makes it possible for future generations to develop a resistance, however temporary, to the stupidity and moral recklessness that created the conditions of the fall in the first place.

And that is what our cuckservative and SJW adversaries keep forgetting. They think that their relentless pursuit of power will save them. They think that, by attempting to force the world to conform to their ideas, rather than working within the immutable laws of nature and of nature's God, they can remake Man into an abstract, perfect creature. That their wanton and repeated failures in this endeavour have resulted in literal mountains of corpses means nothing to them.

All of this simply ensures that, when the fall comes, the backlash against them will be swift and terrible.

And make no mistake, that backlash is coming. I can already see it forming.

Spend any time away from the Sodoms and Gomorrahs that are the big cities of the East and West Coasts, and drive into the countryside. See the real America- the one that still believes in the values that founded it, that wants simply to be left the hell alone to live as it pleases. I saw that America during a weekend trip out to rural Vermont a few months ago, and it restored my flagging faith in this country's people.

Those are the people who will be needed to rebuild from the ashes of what was lost. And they will have precisely zero patience for people with degrees in "social work" and "gender studies" who have no practical skills whatsoever, and who have done nothing in their lives worth a damn, and who know nothing other than how to mooch off others.

It comes down, ultimately, to a question of ants against grasshoppers, for those of you familiar with the old fable. The difference is that in this country, the ants have lots of guns, and plenty of ammo to go with them.

So figure out what you would rather be- an ant, or a grasshopper. And choose well now, because when the tide washes over the ruins of this country that I love, this land of riches and wonders that was once the light and hope of the free world, it will be too late.
I would remind you that extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice... and let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
-- Barry Goldwater, speech to the Republican National Convention, 1964

Monday, 26 October 2015

We come to it at last...

The great game of our time:

Or at least, that's what I hope, and pray, is true.

It looks spectacular. The cinematics, the story, the ideas, and the music that we have seen thus far all indicate a truly top-notch game. The initial reviews from critics are strong.

And yet, there is always that nagging fear- that for all that 343 Industries has going for it, somehow they're going to screw up the greatest franchise in gaming history with a lot of unnecessary social-justice nonsense, glitchy multiplayer, and unbalanced gameplay.

I hope those fears are unfounded. You see, I personally thought that HALO 4 was a phenomenal game. Was it as good as HALO 3, my personal all-time high water mark for games in general? Actually, in parts, it was. The immersive, white-knuckle combat of the first part of the assault on Ivanoff Station in the mission "Composer" is right up there with anything else in the HALO canon, and the ending after the long, terrible, desperate battle against the forces of the Didact (hey, that's me!) really hits you in the gut.

Overall, HALO 4 was a solid start. But now 343i has to prove that they've got what it takes to truly own the HALO franchise, and to out-Bungie Bungie. (This actually shouldn't necessarily prove to be too difficult. For the past few weeks, I've been playing Destiny, and I have to say, it's not half as much fun as HALO 4 was. Not to mention, the lore and back-story and all of that Grimoire nonsense is several thousand times more confusing than even Greg Bear's Forerunner Trilogy books.)

I will, of course, be posting my review of HALO 5: Guardians once I finally get my paws on a copy, which very sadly won't happen until probably Wednesday. But once I do get it, I fully expect my weekend to be basically consumed with making sure that STUFF GETS BLOWED UP BUT GOOD, in full surround sound.

After all, when you get the chance to play as a 900lb genetically, biologically, and cybernetically enhanced super-soldier who is basically Death made flesh, you might as well enjoy the experience.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

A warrior's soul

When the average student of history is asked to name the greatest military strategists of all time, the list is usually a pretty predictable one.

The usual suspects show up on such a list. Sun Tzu, author of the classic treatise on strategy, deception, and tactical finesse, The Art of War. Alexander the Great, of course, for his incredible exploits and his consummate skill at managing his armies. Hannibal Barca, the brilliant Carthaginian general who very nearly fought Rome to total defeat. Scipio Africanus, the even more brilliant Roman general who in turn defeated Hannibal, and, like Alexander, was never defeated in battle. Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, better known simply as Vegetius, from the 4th Century AD, author of De re militari. Miyamoto Musashi, perhaps the greatest swordsman who ever lived, and author of The Book of Five Rings. Napoleon Bonaparte, conqueror of so much of Europe and one of history's greatest ever generals.

And, of course, von Clausewitz, author of Vom Kriege. You and I know it better as On War, probably the single most influential (and misunderstood) guide to military tactics and strategy since Sun Tzu's work.

A few other names might pop up here and there- William S. Lind's name, for instance, for those who are familiar with some amount of 4th Generation Warfare theory. Maybe Heinz Guderian, the German general who did so much to develop and advance the theory and practice of blitzkrieg. Probably George S. "Blood-n-Guts" Patton, whose campaigns were bloody and brilliant in equal measure. You can extend the list quite a long way, actually; everyone has his favourite strategist and military theorist from various different eras in history.

Yet almost none of those lists will include one name: USAF Col. John Richard Boyd.

Born in 1927. Died in 1997. And during his long, eccentric, brilliant career, did more to change the US military and the way it thinks about war, and the way it fights in war, than any other man in history.

And the really sad thing is that almost nobody knows it.

Fortunately, thanks to Robert Coram's truly outstanding book, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, published in 2002, that egregious oversight can be corrected. And his book is not the only one of its kind- it is probably the best and most readable biography written about the "Mad Major", as he was once known, out of the bunch, but there are a great many books that have since been written about John Boyd and the truly staggering impact that he had.

The story of John Boyd is a strange one indeed. Born to a lower-middle-class family in Erie, PA, his father died when he was very young and he grew up under a domineering, strong-willed mother. His father figures included the local swimming coach in his school. He went to the University of Iowa and graduated with a degree in economics- which he later bitterly regretted, calling it a colossal waste of time. (I can sympathise.) By most measures, John Boyd's life should have been pretty ordinary and quite unremarkable in most respects.

It was only when John Boyd entered the US Army Air Corps in 1944 that his remarkable talents began to manifest themselves. While he never flew in WWII itself, he did stay in the Air Corps, which eventually became the US Air Force. And then he arrived in Korea to fly the F-86 Sabre against the Chinese and North Koreans.

And it was there that, suddenly, people began to realise that this wasn't just another jumped-up overeager kid from the Midwest.

John Boyd was fearless in the skies. Most pilots knew the limits of their aircraft and stayed away from them; John Boyd simply didn't care about the limits. He wanted to see just how far he could push his aircraft, and in the process he learned more about dogfighting than any other ten pilots put together.

When John Boyd was invited back to Fighter Weapons School as an instructor, after he graduated at the top of his class, nobody knew how profoundly he would change the world. But change it he did.

Before Boyd, the art of dogfighting was considered just that- an art. It was considered impossible to codify the principles by which pilots would manoeuvre in the sky, seeking advantage over each other- but Boyd figured out the mathematical principles behind energy states, manouevrability, and airspeed, and put it all together into what he called his "Energy-Manouevrability Theory" and codified in what has since come to be known as his "Aerial Attack Study".

It was John Boyd who turned dogfighting from a mysterious and unknowable "art", dictated by talent and bravado, into a science, dictated by physics and thermodynamics. It was his insight that allowed already brave and skilled men to become far better masters of their craft.

It was his mind and will and brilliance that took an arcane, strange concept and turned it into a clearly understandable, easily articulated set of equations that could tell you quickly and easily exactly where, when, and how your aircraft could prevail against another in the skies.

And he was so good at applying his own ideas that he made a bet with his students at FWS: he bet them that if they started in a perfect kill position on his six, he would have the tables turned on them in 40 seconds or less, and he would then pay them $40, and maybe even buy them a steak dinner.

John Boyd never, ever lost that bet. Dozens, maybe hundreds of pilots tried. Every single one of them failed. Most pilots never even lasted twenty seconds against him. The only pilot who came anywhere even close to beating him was a Marine- and Col. Boyd's memory is held most dear not by the US Air Force, where the higher-ups generally wish like hell that they could forget about him (yet the pilots themselves revere him), but by the Marine Corps. It is the Marines- the rivet-heads, the leathernecks, the mud-feet- who have a beautiful tribute to Col. Boyd at the Marine Corps Research Centre at Quantico. It is they who understand, most fully, precisely what an impact this one man had upon their entire approach to war.

Col. John Boyd was, quite simply, the greatest American fighter pilot in history. This, despite not having a single kill to his name.

This one man changed the realities of aerial warfare, forever. Today there is not one air force in the world that does not owe a debt to Col. Boyd's intellectual legacy.

But John Boyd wasn't content with merely revolutionising the way pilots fought. When he was assigned to the Puzzle Palace- the Pentagon- he was instrumental in designing the F-15 after the disastrous and colossally expensive boondoggle that was the F-111. He and his Acolyte, Pierre Sprey, worked with the Air Force to design a truly superior fighter, and that bird eventually became the F-15 Eagle, probably the single most fearsome and dangerous air superiority fighter in the world today.

Simply working on the legendary Eagle would have been enough to guarantee John Boyd a place in history. Yet that wasn't enough. He and Pierre Sprey hated the interference that the Air Force Pentaloons kept throwing his way, as they insisted that the Eagle be outfitted with the latest whiz-bang gadgets and pointless fripperies. So finally he, Col. Riccioni, and Sprey got fed up and started an underground, top-secret development program for an all-new, streamlined, lightweight rapier of a fighter that would be, quite simply, the ultimate dogfighting machine.

That machine became the F-16 Fighting Falcon, a gigantic success in aviation history and still, more than 40 years after its inception, probably the best modern dogfighter around. Which is highly ironic given that, originally, the airheads in charge of the USAF wanted absolutely nothing to do with it and would gladly have seen the program strangled at birth.

And John Boyd is indirectly responsible for the creation and development, against truly ferocious Pentaloon resistance, of the magnificently ugly yet terrifyingly effective A-10 Warthog, the deadliest close-support aircraft around.

Not satisfied with revolutionising aerial combat and designing fighter planes, Col. Boyd then turned his attentions to a broader understanding of war. And it is here that his greatest contributions were made.

Many have heard of his famous "OODA Loop". Very few people, though, understand what it really means. The OODA Loop is not merely a buzzword; it defines how and why wars are won or lost. The key behind the theory is that the party that orients itself most quickly in the face of new information, and then chooses the least expected course of action, is going to prevail in the battlefield over slower, less outwardly-focused, less mobile organisations that simply cannot process and use information as quickly.

It is the OODA Loop that helped John Boyd develop his theories of manoeuvre warfare- a set of ideas that are so revolutionary compared to the way that most militaries fight, that they might as well have come from a different planet.

In order to understand why, you have to understand that the US military's way of fighting is still basically identical to what the French did a hundred years ago in the trenches of WWI. The instruments of war have changed, but the tactics remain essentially the same. The entire philosophy effectively comes down to attrition: you bump into the enemy, you call in massive artillery strikes and fire support, you slog it out and trade body blows and the guy who wins is the one who kills the most of the other guy's troops. There is no subtlety, no finesse, no charm to such a method. It is brutal, gritty, blood-and-guts fighting.

Manouevre warfare, used by the truly great generals of history, such as Belisarius and Guderian, basically gives the French method of warfare the bird and focuses instead on probing for enemy weak points. When one is found, everything is committed to the effort of penetrating it, then swinging around and "rolling the enemy up from the rear".

The two styles of warfare are completely different. The first is top-down, hierarchical, slow, ponderously ceremonial in many cases, and absolutely brutal. The second is bottom-up, fast, lean, outwardly oriented, results-based, and extraordinarily nimble.

And as the Germans demonstrated in WWII, when manoeuvre warfare meets attrition warfare, attrition loses. Horribly.

All of these insights seem obvious today. But they were not, until John Boyd came along and discovered them.

Looking at the history of warfare through Col. Boyd's work, suddenly so much about war, strategy, and tactics makes perfect sense. No other American officer in history has had that kind of impact on such a wide range of fields.

And few other officers who have done so much for their country and their people, have been so shamefully treated and forgotten.

A large part of Col. Boyd's shabby treatment at the hands of the military is his own fault, to be sure. The man actively bragged about never meeting a general that he couldn't offend. He was all about doing the right thing; professionally (though not necessarily personally), he was a man of rigid and unimpeachable integrity. He demanded the best from himself and others, and anyone who couldn't meet his exacting standards was simply discarded. Those few that he considered worthy, though, became extraordinary men in their own right.

It is remarkable, then, that John Boyd is remembered not by the Air Force, but by the Marine Corps. The airhead was adopted by the jarheads as one of their own- because he, alone among all men, taught the devil dogs about manouevre warfare, and showed them just how lethally effective it could be.

John Boyd has lessons to teach us today, as well. In the war for our culture, the old, top-down methods simply will not work anymore. Faster, nimbler, individualistic efforts are needed to combat the cancer that has seeped into our culture, through our most beloved institutions. And it is John Boyd's work on military theory that will lead us to victory.

When Col. Boyd died, he left behind him precious little written work by which to judge his legacy. Yet it is clear that, if anything, his incredible achievements were understated by those who followed. He never published a tactical manual like Vegetius, or a book on strategy like Sun Tzu; he never had any memoirs produced like most modern generals would. His legacy remains in his legendary briefings, "Patterns of Conflict" and "Aerial Attack Study", and in the students of war that he inspired to take up his mantle.

Honour, then, a prophet almost without honour in his own country- with the sterling and notable exception of the Marines. Honour a true warrior, a man who understood better than anyone else the art of war, and sought above all to help others to understand it as well as he did.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Seriously, just KILL THEM OFF already

A panda gets stuck in a tree and the world goes all gooey at how adorably stupid the damn thing is:
Sometimes, the struggle is most definitely real. 
In this instance, embodied by a poor, uncoordinated and adorable giant panda, battling both nature and gravity. 
The panda was filmed as it climbed a small tree at a zoo in an unknown location in China, and taking an unfortunate tumble. 
After a few seconds of waving its paws and wiggling it's behind, the panda breaks free but falls to the ground with a thud.
Sadly, the dumb bastard missed the rock right underneath the tree:

As you can see, it then proceeded to just... sort of lie there with a goofy dumb expression on its gormless face, as if it kind of sort of understands how retarded it really is, but just can't be arsed to do anything about it.

As usual, women and children everyone are going to talk about how adorable these useless furry sacks of crap really are. But to me, these things represent everything that is wrong with the modern conservation movement.

Look, these things are GIANT FREAKIN' BEARS. You know what a real bear looks like?

"My fellow bears, I promise you that your right to hunt and eat dumbass humans who wander into our territory will NEVER be infringed!"
That is a bear. It cannot hear you over the sound of its own sheer badassitude.

Meanwhile, his retarded cousin Mr. Cuddles up there is too stupid even to figure out how to be a proper carnivore.

Pandas are fat, slow, stupid, inbred, useless wastes of time and money. Yeah, they're damned nice to look at. So are badgers- and I'm not talking about the walking germ factories that infest the English countryside. (Or at least, not the kind that walks on four legs. The other kind, I don't mind in the least.) But badgers at least serve a (very important) purpose. Pandas serve no purpose whatsoever.

Plus, they have clearly given up on themselves as a species. They won't procreate in captivity even when their keepers get dressed up in humiliating and utterly inappropriate panda suits and... um... er... I'm trying desperately to keep this PG-rated, so... provide appropriate encouragement?

I say we shoot the damn things, turn them into panda steaks, and turn the money we saved on these useless sacks of fur and crap toward more important things. Like keeping and arming bears.

I stand corrected

Well, sort of. You see, Carey brought to my attention that I might have been just a tad too hasty in arguing that Death Note is a seriously messed up manga/anime. After all, if you were given a chance to get your own copy of a Death Note, what would you use it for?

There is one other name that I would maybe add.

There is this awesome TV show that I watch called Last Man Standing, starring Tim Allen as the "manly man" Mike Baxter, a conservative who loves God, country, and family, who believes in the Constitution and the rights and qualities of a free people with all his heart. It's a terrific TV show with miles and miles of heart, and, amazingly, it actually teaches real family values. This, in a day and age where all TV before the watershed apparently has to be as degenerate as possible while still staying within the norms of FCC-mandated "decency" standards.

There is, however, one rather large fly in that ointment.

See, one of the main characters- Kristin Baxter, the eldest daughter of Mike and his vivacious, charming wife Vanessa, played splendidly by Nancy Travis- was impregnated in high school by a guy named Ryan, who ran from his responsibilities as a father and then came back into the picture. He is, basically, your typical Millennial liberal hippie douchebag, and every time I see him on screen, preaching about environmentalism or how guns kill people or how God doesn't exist, all I can do is turn my eyes to the ceiling and pray to the Lord.

Specifically, I ask Him about that whole Sixth Commandment thing. You know, the one that says, "Thou shalt not murder". In the case of the character of Ryan Vogelson, I constantly find myself asking the Lord if He would really mind granting a mulligan on that particular Commandment. Just that one time. PLEASE...!!!

Right: sh*tlib just asking to get punched
Fortunately, there remains a very good reason to stay tuned in to the show:

Technically, that's more like three reasons
Yes, she is actually that hot. God bless America. And yes, I know, that's gratuitous. Are you really going to complain?

Anyway, getting back to the point- yes, there are in fact times when maybe, just MAYBE, that whole "Death Note" concept would come in rather handy.

Even so, I oppose murder as a matter of principle, no matter who commits it and who the victim is. Though, believe me, Justin Bieber makes a very compelling counterargument...

Monday, 19 October 2015

Now that's a creative interpretation...

Someone going by the handle of "Unknown"- clever, that- responded to my post about the unknown unknowns of Russia with the following, er, "arguments":

That bit in the middle about Roosh immediately triggered my BS alarm. As you may know, I have worked for Roosh in the past. My full list of articles is in fact still available for public perusal.

You may also know that I never once accepted a single dime for my work for Reaxxion. I was and remain proud of my work for Reaxxion, but it was all done pro bono to allow the site to grow as fast as possible. Didn't help in the end, sadly, but those were good times while they lasted.

So I have no particular animus against Roosh- in fact, I think he's a very decent guy and a good businessman in his own right. I also have nothing to gain, or to lose, from examining someone else's claims about him. I am, essentially, what might be called "an instance of the finger-post".

So I did investigate the claims. And here was my response:

The first of these contentions, that Roosh lied about sleeping with a bunch of women that he then posted pictures of in his book, Bang, is easily disproven on several fronts.

First, the book in question is not Bang. It is Bang Ukraine. Different book. A minor quibble, I know, but getting the facts straight is important here.

Second, here is the actual video footage of Roosh's appearance- it was an ambush interview, really, but he knew that going in to it- on that Ukrainian talk-show:

As Roosh states in his post on the subject, the two girls that appeared on the show demanded to know why he had used their photos on his blog without their permission. Well, that's fair enough, and they can accuse him of taking their "intellectual property", so to speak, if they want. But that is a very far cry from saying that he lied about sleeping with them.

In fact, as Roosh himself states in the very post that sparked the appearance of these two girls, he categorically did not sleep with them.

Let us give "Unknown" every possible benefit of the doubt and concede that this qualifier could easily have been added after the talk-show appearance. That is a fair concession.

But even then, we still have problems.

The reactions of the women on the show are not those of jilted and angry ex-lovers. They are those of women who are plainly attention-whoring and playing up for the camera. At no point in that segment of the interview do they make the claim that Roosh is lying about sleeping with them- because, as he himself said, he didn't.

About the worst thing he did was take their pictures and post them. Which, if they posted those pictures using unlocked publicly searchable accounts, is really their problem, not his.

So essentially, the claims that "Unknown" makes about Roosh's character are baseless. Even the most cursory examination of the evidence contradicts her claims- I assume, until shown otherwise, that "Unknown" is a woman, based on the second sentence of her own comment.

The second claim, that Roosh is bitter and angry about Slavic women, is harder to prove- but, of course, the burden of proof is not on me. I didn't make the claim, she did. So let her prove it.

One might well ask why I'm taking exception to what amounts to little more than a set of critical comments about a man that I consider to be an ally in the war for the culture and against the SJWs. In reply, I will simply remind "Unknown" of my rules. The second of these plainly says:
If you have something to say, be prepared to back it up. I am driven by logic, facts, and evidence. I am not interested in empty meanderings. If you are called upon to back up an assertion, be ready to do so. Failure to do so may mean that your comment(s) will be deleted. Repeated failure to do so will result in being banned.
Therefore, "Unknown", you are hereby on notice. Your first claim is categorically false, proven so by simple examination of evidence that you yourself referenced. Your second claim is deeply suspect. It is incumbent upon you to prove it. Failure to do so will result in all future comments being deleted.

And contrary to what I expect would be your response to that claim, no, I actually don't care what you think of that. The rules are what they are. Break them, and you will suffer the penalties. That is the way that rules work, after all.

Roosh, of course, does not need me, or anyone else, to defend him. He has no real idea who I am, and we both prefer it that way. He is perfectly capable of defending himself, which he has done against attacks far more substantive and vicious than these. Though his outlook on life differs significantly from my own in several areas, most notably with regard to his (relatively) hedonistic lifestyle, I have great respect for him nonetheless and will not see such a man's reputation sullied for no good cause.

Above all, I absolutely cannot stand liars. And "Unknown" is coming perilously close to being proven mendacious in the extreme.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Turn the crazy up to 11

Yeah, pretty much what they said:

I've seen a few episodes of Death Note. My sister loves this anime, for some bizarre reason. I, personally, find it disturbing in the extreme. The entire show basically revolves around the idea of an extremely intelligent teenager finding a book that allows him to kill anyone, anywhere, as long as he knows the name and face of his victim.

As you can imagine, that leads to some seriously effed-up behaviour, as the, er, "protagonist", Light Yagami, fancies himself to be the "god of the new world" and sets about moudling a world in his very twisted image.

Maybe it's because I used to be an atheist, or maybe it's because I know a little something about irrational teenagers- having essentially watched one growing up before my eyes. But it's probably fair to say that putting that kind of power into the hands of a clinical psychopath isn't exactly a brilliant idea.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

A President and a pussy

Really not that hard to tell who's who:

Now, I'm not that big a fan of President Putin, either. Yes, he's certainly a far manlier man than Odoofuss is... but that doesn't strike me as much of a bar to clear. There are 120lb girls at my martial arts school who wear pink shirts on the mat and scrunchies in their hair that are manlier than he is.

He's also an authoritarian who appears to care little for the rule of law, and who appears to have done quite little to reduce his people's crippling dependence on oil and natural gas.

So how about we do a comparison between a truly great American President, and the current jug-eared twit?

This is what the New Yorker, certainly no fan of ol' Dusty, has to say about Mr. Reagan's physique and presence:
In 1988, at seventy-seven years of age, the President stood six feet one and weighed a hundred and ninety pounds, none of it flab. He boasted that any punch aimed at his abdomen would be jarringly repulsed. After a lifetime of working out with wheels and bars, he had broadened his chest to a formidably walled cavern forty-four inches in circumference. He was a natural athlete, with a peculiarly graceful Algonquin gait that brought him into rooms almost soundlessly. No matter how fast he moved (that big body could turn on a dime), he was always balanced.  
One recalls how elegantly he choreographed Mikhail Gorbachev up the steps at the 1985 Geneva summit: an arabesque of dark blue flowing around awkward gray. Reagan loved to swim, ride, and foxtrot. (Doris Day remembers him as “the only man I ever knew who really liked to dance.”) Eleven weeks after nearly dying in the assassination attempt of 1981, he climbed onto the springboard at the Camp David swimming pool and threw a perfect half pike before anybody could protest.
Of course, pictures are always the best proof, and here is the evidence of Mr. Reagan's actual stature. The first two pictures are taken directly from an article he wrote for Parade magazine about his physical exercise routine. The article is worth reading in its entirety, just to get an idea of how ridiculously strong President Reagan was, well into his late seventies and early eighties:

Hard to believe now, I know, but there was a time when this country had a real badass in charge.

Thirty years later, this is what we have instead:

Dear Lord. His wife is more of a dude than he is.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Album Review: The Book of Souls by IRON MAIDEN

When some bands come out with new albums, you'll listen to them a few dozen times, you'll find them irresistibly catchy, and then you'll put them away, out of sight and out of mind, for months or even years. That's simply the nature of the music; it's transient, a flash in the pan, a moment of brilliance that fades away, never to shine again.

With IRON MAIDEN, though, things tend to be a bit different.

A new IRON MAIDEN album might as well be the metal world's equivalent of the election of a new Pope. The greatest band of all time, containing some of the world's finest musicians and songwriters, has graced us with new material to process and digest and enjoy. That's kind of a big frackin' deal. If Beethoven were to suddenly jump off his cloud up there and release a new symphony, that would be about the closest you could get to matching the importance of a new IRON MAIDEN album.

It's always something to be experienced and savoured slowly; only repeated listens make it possible to really absorb and understand the sheer brilliance of the music. This band is made up of six of the most gifted, most dedicated, most hardworking, and most highly skilled musicians the world has ever seen, who have each spent more than 50 years perfecting their individual skills. And it is a band that is more than the sum of its parts; its signature sound is totally unique, and no one else has ever been able to replicate that unique formula to come up with anything even close.

They are, without question, the most highly respected band in heavy metal. And I mean that literally. You will find plenty of metal fans who love JUDAS PRIEST but can't see the point of BLACK SABBATH. (I am one of them.) Contrariwise, there are quite a few metal fans who think that Tony Iommi is quite simply the man who invented heavy metal, and that anything anyone else has ever done is merely a permutation or combination of something that he came up with. (Rob Zombie, for instance, has gone on the record saying this.) You will find metal fans who will get into heated arguments over which ANTHRAX singer was the best; why power metal is gay or manly, in turn; why black metal is either incomprehensible gibberish or the only true form of music known to Man; and which female singer is the greatest.

But if you ask any metal fan about the one and only IRON MAIDEN, the response is universally one of utmost respect. Even fans who don't necessarily like the music of IRON MAIDEN, respect them. Pretty much no other band can claim that status.

That didn't happen by accident. This is a band that has spent the last forty years doing what it wants to do, and to hell with what anyone else thinks. Yet they have also managed to produce material at a level of excellence and quality that virtually no other band has ever matched. They have managed their brand with superb skill. They never fail to put on a spectacular live show. They treat their fans with love and respect and never fail to give us what we want.

I, personally, have been an IRON MAIDEN fan since I was 15 years old. One of the happiest days of my life was the day I walked out of a record store clutching the first 5 IRON MAIDEN albums (and a couple of BRUCE DICKINSON solo albums). I had a bad cold at the time, but at that moment, being sick and weak didn't matter; I had the greatest albums of all time in my hands, and at that moment, I was happy.

So when I say that I've been looking forward to this new album for a LONG time, you know that I mean it.

This album has, indeed, been a long time in coming. It took IRON MAIDEN five years from 2010's The Final Frontier to come together to produce new material. And at first glance, it's easy to think that maybe the Irons have gotten a little complacent, a little lax, not quite up to their usual levels of balls-out brilliance.

I mean, look at that album cover. Sure, it's not terrible- not nearly as bad as the cover for Dance of Death, or The X Factor. But it's still not up to the level of mind-bending genius of the old Derek Riggs covers from the 1980s. Nowhere even close.

And then the first single hit. "Speed of Light" was, by MAIDEN standards, pretty damn good. But it wasn't great. It was simply a catchy, heavy song with a great chorus and great solos- which are terms that you can use to describe most of IRON MAIDEN's shorter songs from the last six albums. There was no real sense of immediacy about it, no sense of making a definitive statement like they did with "The Wicker Man" from Brave New World. That song was nothing short of a declaration of war; it said, emphatically, that IRON MAIDEN were back, bigger and badder and better than ever, with new energy and new power, willing to show the world what we already knew, deep down, but in our complacency had allowed ourselves to forget: that they are, quite simply, the greatest, EVER.

By contrast, the first single simply said, "hey, new IRON MAIDEN song, have a listen". Well, OK, but that's a pretty limp message, isn't it?

I really didn't know what to expect when I listened to the full album all the way through. Maybe I expected "more of the same"- a few punchy, heavy tracks, a few long-winded, proggy tracks, and an overall memorable and great experience that I will continue to enjoy for many years to come. That's how I feel about pretty much every MAIDEN album.

Now, about a week in, I can't stop listening to it. This is an album that grows on you over time, becoming better and more nuanced and more powerful with every listen. This album is something truly special.

The first thing I thought when I listened all the way through was, "I did NOT expect that", followed immediately by, "where the HELL did they come up with THAT?!?", and topped off with, "how in the thousand names of the Beast did they pull this album off?!!!".

So, is this new album any good?


It's the best album they've made in more than 25 years.

Yes, I'm serious. No, I'm not drunk. No, I'm not high. It is ACTUALLY that good.

Remember when you were a little kid and you watched a Jaguar or an Aston Martin drive past and you thought to yourself, "I wonder if that car is as good to drive as it looks and sounds"? And then you grow up and you actually get to drive your dream car, and you realise that it's just not as good as you'd hoped?

Compared to that, this album is like buying something that looks like a Fiat Panda, that somehow magically transforms into a Ferrari FXX K the moment you nudge the accelerator pedal with your big toe.

The album kicks off with "If Eternity Should Fail", which is one of the most experimental tracks that this band has ever attempted. One of the two tracks penned entirely by Bruce Dickinson, its intro is just plain weird, and at first I didn't know what to make of it. The song is played in drop-D tuning, which is something that the notoriously straight-laced band has never done. It starts out slow and pounds away at you, with an epic (if perhaps slightly monotonous) chorus that just grows and grows on you. And then, out of nowhere, it kicks into high gear as the time signature changes and the band enters that familiar gallop-kick that is so unique and so much a part of their sound.

Then comes "Speed of Light", which really grows on you after a while. It takes time- at first, it's just a generic upbeat rock track that's fun to mosh to and generally just has a great groove. But then you start noticing the subtle little things about it, like Nicko's pounding drum lines and Adrian's amazing solos, that really lift the song and make it more than just "the single" from the album.

"The Great Unknown" is the start of the truly progressive side of the album. Starting off slowly, as many of MAIDEN's really epic tracks do, it builds up a real head of steam with powerful and moving lyrics, and then all of a sudden morphs into a thunderous, roaring, epic chorus followed immediately by equally epic duelling guitars riding the tidal wave of the rhythm section.

But it might just be the next track, "The Red and the Black", which is the biggest surprise. As I said before, when Steve Harris decides to stop screwing around with those ridiculous three-minute intros to every damn song, he can be an absolute freakin' genius, and this track proves it beyond the palest shadow of a doubt. The signs, at first, aren't great- the track starts off slowly with 'Arry strumming full chords on an acoustic bass, and then seems to go into that slow plod that have characterised so many of the band's longer tracks for so many years.

And then, suddenly, magically, it all changes.

The band turns on a dime, cranks everything to 11, and thunders through some of the finest instrumental work that they have ever done. It's an incredible change, and you have to hear it to believe it. That chorus, and the fist-pumping chants that accompany it, will have you wanting to jump on your desk and headbang right away. And even though it is a thirteen-minute song, I have yet to feel like it's overdone or boring; it feels powerful and immediate throughout. The first time I heard it, I thought I'd been hit over the head with a hammer- which, in fairness, is probably what the band intended.

The onslaught doesn't let up with "When the River Runs Deep", where the band showcases the galloping rhythm that has been their signature for so long. Full of the kind of rousing we'll-march-to-the-war lyrics that the band has infused its songs with for so many years, this is a song that is just begging to be played live while a bunch of lunatics like me jump around like madmen and shout ourselves hoarse.

The title track, "Book of Souls", is one of the biggest surprises that the band has ever pulled off. It starts out slow and plodding, once again- and you find yourself thinking, "oh hell, here we go, this is going to be another 'Mother Russia' all over again". But then, once again, out of freakin' nowhere, the band kicks it into high gear and absolutely tears it up with some of the most aggressive, yet melodic, music that they have ever made. It's a truly EPIC track with amazing lyrics, incredible guitar harmonies, astonishing drumming, overpowering bass, and a fine display of vocal pyrotechnics.

The good stuff doesn't end there, either. "Death or Glory" is basically the band's modern-day equivalent of "Aces High" from the seminal Powerslave, and it says something about this band that they can make a track that is almost as punchy and powerful and thunderous today as the one that they made more than thirty years ago. It is simply perfect, and if they don't play this one live, then they'll have robbed us fans of something truly special. This is the song that will break people's hips and necks when we try to mosh to it. I say, bring it on.

"Shadows in the Valley" is basically IRON MAIDEN 101. It carries on in the same vein of powerful music with epic choruses and rolling, gallop-kick rhythms. Its lyrics are dark yet inspiring; it is a song of war and death, of the price paid by brave men to defend that which they love. It is, simply, awesome.

"Tears of a Clown" is one of the two really kind of odd songs on the album. This song was originally written as a tribute to Robin Williams, and the first time I heard it, I didn't much care for it. I thought it was kind of naff, actually. But it grew and grew on me, until I finally realised that actually, it's really rather good. Is it as good as the rest of the album? Probably not, but it's still a very solid, very unusual song that you wouldn't typically hear on a MAIDEN album.

The tenth song, "The Man of Sorrows", is a dark, brooding track, but is probably the least memorable one on the album. Somehow it just doesn't grab me the way the others do- though I suspect that it will probably grow on me the way that "Fortunes of War" from The X Factor did, back in the day. Back then, I couldn't see the point of that song; nowadays, it's one of my favourite songs from this band.

But it is the eleventh and final song that is truly special. The entire album thus far is an amazing ride, full of twists and turns and unexpected, brilliant pleasures. Yet this track may be perhaps the greatest song this magnificent band has ever made. And that is because it is NOTHING like their past work.

It starts off with a piano playing a soft ballad-like introduction, and builds slowly through Bruce Dickinson's mesmerising lyrics about the final, tragic flight of the zeppelin R101. Bruce uses this song to tell a story, but he does it in such brilliant fashion. He weaves together vivid images in your head, accompanied by soaring music that perfectly accompanies his tale, all while that piano adds a totally different dimension to the band's metal onslaught.

Sure, the "SOS" section in the middle is kind of stupid and jarring, I'll admit that much. And yet, by the time the song closes with those beautiful, poignant lyrics, you'll find that you've gone on a journey with the band, through space and time, to see and experience that last flight through the storm that brought down what was, at the time, the biggest airship of her kind.

This album promises much. It delivers even more. Like the band that created it, it is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Is it without flaws? Of course not. The production is as uneven as the last few MAIDEN albums have always been; the reason why the levels always sound weird on IRON MAIDEN studio albums is basically because, even though Kevin Shirley "produces" the albums, in reality, Steve Harris dictates what the albums will sound like. And the man is, at this point, half-deaf from standing next to massive amps on stage for so many decades. His ability to hear beyond the middle range is practically non-existent. That's why every MAIDEN album since The X Factor has sounded like it was recorded in a garage.

It is also fair to argue that a lot of the songs- far too many of them- from the last six albums have all sounded like basically extended jam sessions. I'm pretty sure that's actually what happened with some of the longer tracks on Brave New World, for instance.

And yeah, the band has three guitars that sound like there is half a guitar in the mix. To be fair, a weak guitar sound has always been a feature of the band's sound, ever since the beginning; it lets Steve play the bass almost like another rhythm guitar. And the mix drowns out Bruce's voice, it's true.

But this band doesn't apologise for what it is. Yes, the direction has gotten distinctly more proggy over the last fifteen years. Well, so what? This is the GREATEST BAND OF ALL TIME. They have nothing left to prove to anyone. And yet they go on proving, year in and year out, that they are the classiest, most talented, most business-savvy, and most fan-friendly band of any real note, that continues to go from strength to strength.

A word must be mentioned here about Bruce Dickinson's remarkable vocal performance here. The other day, I'd just finished listening to this album, and then I started listening to Brave New World and The Chemical Wedding. Now, these albums were recorded when Bruce was at his absolute vocal peak. His astonishing voice had benefited from extensive time off and from projects that were suited perfectly to his singing style.

And that was when I realised that his singing on this new album was every bit as good as it was fifteen years ago.

I have no idea how the hell he does it. On-stage, the man is an absolute blur. He's a ball of manic energy that somehow never misses a cue, hardly ever screws up a lyric, always hits the right notes, and never ever seems to slow down or tire out.

So when I heard that he had cancer, I prayed for him, hoping that he would recover. And boy, has he ever!

This album was worth the wait. It is, quite simply, magnificent.

Didact's Verdict: See, now this is where it gets tricky.

It's a new IRON MAIDEN album. Asking me to be objective about IRON MAIDEN, relative to other bands, is an exercise in futility. Of course I'm going to give it a 5/5. No other band comes anywhere close.

But how about when compared with other albums from their back-catalogue?

Well that's where it gets tough.

IRON MAIDEN has never, ever, made a truly bad album. They have come close with Killers, No Prayer for the Dying, and maybe  parts of A Matter of Life and Death. Yet each of those albums has its redeeming features. There is always something to enjoy about a MAIDEN album, and each one can be savoured on its own.

So if we take Powerslave and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son as their absolute peak, 5/5, where does it rank?

Well, it's better than anything they've done since 1988, that's for damn sure. But it's still not, quite, as brilliant as SSOASS. It's better than the seminal Brave New World in terms of quality of the songs. It's got better production and better material than Dance of Death. It's more exciting and more interesting than The X Factor. And it's far more even, and better paced, than Fear of the Dark.

So, relative to their back-catalogue, I'd have to rate it at... 4.5/5. Better than anything else they've done other than Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, Powerslave, and Seventh Son.

So what's my verdict?

Dude... you read through all of that and you still have to ask?