This is mostly for my own benefit, though I don't mind sharing what's here. There's more, but these are the high points and they bother me even years later. I had health issues from deploying, then sleep issues (physiological, not psychological), and started a new family. A lot of this was out of mind for a decade or more.

It's obviously subjective to me, to a certain timeframe and people, and from my own perspective. Others will have their own perspectives and experiences, and some may have been a lot more positive. Good on them. If criticism of these incidents and timeline bother you, as it did one respondent I'll quote within, do yourself a favor and close the page now. I don't want anyone with granular vaginitis whining about how what happened didn't, or how I'm wrong to feel as I (and most of the people referenced) do, or otherwise. I'll just mock you and block you.

Note that this is not a condemnation of any individual or element I don't reference. Overall, I respect the Soldiers I served and interacted with, and they were stuck in the same morass I and others were. They deserve credit for not only tolerating and surviving it, but succeeding despite it. Far too few of them got real decorations for any of this.

If at any point my comments distress you, please re-read the above, and if necessary, just stop reading. I'm uninterested in evasions, explanations, "context" for the events, or any other bullshit. It was what it was. We were there.

Those of you who’ve been reading this page for a while may recall the philosophy of Violence First.

Isaac Asimov famously said, “Violence is the last resort of the incompetent.”

A far wiser Jerry Pournelle responded, “Correct, the competent use it before it’s the last resort.”

The classic example is, if Hitler’s intent had been properly interpreted in say, 1934 (there were plenty of signs), a properly placed bullet would have prevented the Holocaust, and potentially defused WWII to several smaller, regional conflicts with lower death tolls.

If violence is the solution, it should be used quickly and effectively.

One would think the military would have this well under control, but such is not the case.

A standard part of military training is gas mask/other protective gear, and a test with tear gas.  The way this is supposed to work (and did for me) is you are taught how to use the protective ensemble, then gear up, step into a tent with tear gas canisters sizzling away, remove your mask, feel the burn of the gas, run outside to fresh air. This demonstrates that your mask works.  Later fittings (we upgraded from M17 series to MCU series and M40 masks, depending on unit) involved banana oil (very pungent and will get through any leak), and a once a year size and fit check.  Every three to four years, we’d don the gear, step into a tent full of gas, and be assured it fit and was working. Did anyone doubt this and want to take off their mask to prove it? No. Done.

However, there are certain sadistic perverts in training units who choose this as an opportunity to abuse helpless recruits. Not only remove the mask, but then recite some gay song, do jumping jacks, or otherwise achieve a state where recruits are puking their guts out from exposure.

It’s difficult for recruits to address this, as they haven’t been taught controlled aggression. In fact, they’ve been taught to be obedient even to self-destructive orders that achieve no additional benefit.  This needs to stop.

The proper response upon encountering a BDSM freak who orders this should be to reverse the dynamic. The trainees should swarm the pervert, rip off his mask, and hold his face in close proximity to the smoldering canister of orthochlorobenzal-malononitrile until HE is puking his guts out, while the masks keep them safe. They will see up close that the protective mask works, and the effects of tear gas on the hostile, while achieving dynamic control of the situation, which is the correct attitude and response. This could even be part of the test and training, assuming volunteers can be found for the S&M role.

Similarly, but even more incorrect is pepper spray training for detention and prison control.

The “training” is to douse you with OC spray, and have you perform a takedown on another instructor, so you can see how effective it is, and so you will be reluctant to use it unless necessary, and that you will still be able to perform a takedown under these conditions.

This is ridiculous and pointless.

First, it is unlikely that a prisoner or detainee has access to OC spray unless someone has severely failed in their task.

Second, 10% of the population are non-responsive to OC spray. Also, why are they training you to be reluctant to use non-lethal force?

Third, if you can effect a takedown after being sprayed, it was obviously insufficiently effective.

Fourth, why, if Party A is attacking you, would you effect a takedown on Party B?

So the presentation here is, “Hold still so I can hurt you, but only a little, then you will demonstrate a meaningless response against a non-resistant training aid.”

Violence First. Do not be a victim.

Following the Violence First principle, you should immediately charge the threatening attacker, as you are inside Tuehler range. First, immobilize the threat, and I hope he values his knees more than you value his knees. Ensure the weapon cannot engage you. Second, disarm the threat, and I hope he values his fingers more than you do. Then, with your face averted, discharge the pepper spray up his nostrils until resistance stops. Ensure the engagement is terminated by using the empty canister to strike the temple.

Once he is in the hospital, possibly intubated, certainly on oxygen, you will have concrete evidence that OC spray CAN be effective when properly employed, and the trainer can certify that you will respond to a threat with immediate, effective violence to neutralize it, and you pass the certification with a triple plus beyond regular pass.

A further example is (from examples I’ve seen and heard) in Ranger School, where an element is attempting to conduct a complicated orienteering problem (One does not “navigate” on land), while being harassed and hazed loudly by a cadre member.

The first problem is that training orders are to NOT subsist off the land if you have the knowledge, but only use the pittance of food they deign to offer. So once again, the instruction is, “Allow us to hurt you but don’t interfere, and fail to respond in an effective fashion.”

This is completely wrong. Once again: Violence First.

As this is training for battle, the screaming, hazing, obstructing individual can be interpreted two ways.

The first possible interpretation is as a member of your element who has lost his mental acuity and is both hindering your process and risking discovery by the enemy, in which case the first step is to shake them firmly, and quietly advise them of this fact.

The other, more likely option is they will continue to be an interference, thus a simulation of an enemy contact.  While it would be slightly out of line to render a staff member dead, it is perfectly reasonable to simulate this by subduing the obstruction (a rifle butt to the solar plexus or groin should prove effective, if you are unfamiliar with a proper choke hold). Keep in mind the numbers are on your side.  Then immobilize the obstruction by lashing to a convenient tree, rock or other landmark. Search as you would a real prisoner, and secure any rations they have, as well as any useful information—schedules, maps, phone numbers of hot chicks, phones with porn, etc.  You will need to gag them, so carefully check their nostrils are clear.

You can then proceed with your orienteering and movement to complete the exercise, at which time you should furnish a map with the obstruction’s location clearly marked (you did do so, yes?) to demonstrate your ability to effectively neutralize a threat, maintain OPSEC and tactical stealth, to gather intel while conducting reconnaissance, and to mark locations for followup. The cadre will recognize your superior ability to the sheeplike trainees, and should immediately promote you ahead of peers for your ability to use controlled aggression to complete the mission.  If there is dispute over this, a second demonstration may be necessary. Disable the cadre, restrain, redeploy from the area to garrison, and inform the next link in the chain of command of the issue, furnishing grid coordinates. One might even offer to lead the recovery detail as a demonstration of orienteering skill.

Hopefully, the next generation of recruits will utilize the above (Which is a non-exhaustive guideline of only three examples) to bring the US military to a peak level of intelligently controlled, fast-responding, decisive action that will win all future engagements.

March 18, 2023 Update:

Yesterday, Vandenberg / Bard's Tower announced he is ceasing operations. He is helpfully deleting any comments which point out he's brought this upon himself by his actions, and some folks appear to be totally unaware. 

And then this was seen:

"Isolated incident" is definitely not the terminology to be used here. - Webmistress

March 13, 2023 update:

I received this correspondence a few days ago:

I [am also owed money] by Alexi Vandenberg. Additionally, I know of an elderly woman he [owes] over $25,000...

I filed a lawsuit (filed in Chancery 2023CH01843, if you are curious) with one count of breach of contract, one count of debt recovery, multiple counts of fraud, multiple counts of defamation, one count of negligence, and one count of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

If you want to see the filing status you can do so:

You can go to:

Choose Chancery, and search by Case Number:

Search by Case #: 2023CH01843


The case ID and claim is real. What happens in Cook County courts remains to be seen and may not accomplish anything either way.

Then there was this:

I just finished reading your blog post about Alexi Vandenberg. Unfortunately I have lost a substantial sum of money to Mr. Vandenberg because of a similar trust. Mr. Vandenberg has promised to send all of the books belonging to Bard's Tower to me as payment for the money invested in his company. [So far, this has not happened.]


Names withheld, though the one can be seen on the court filing. I know both by name and have encountered them elsewhere.

There are also other alleged complaints on various fora. It appears this is a trend.


UPDATE: Two days after this post, after many exchanges on how to pay electronically, he has paid the estate his estimated value of the books.


SUMMARY: Alexi Vandenberg was supposed to sell $10,000 worth of rare books from the estate of a multiply decorated combat veteran. The inheritor is the veteran’s disabled niece. Over 17 months later, he has not paid a cent to the estate, nor returned the books.


The estate of my friend Captain Gary Kitchen had over $60,000 in retail value of autographed sci fi books.  Two dealers and a collector bought a bunch. They paid promptly.

At Indiana Comic Convention October 2021, we delivered several crates of books to Alexi Vandenberg, improprietor of Bard’s Tower, the “Tower of Books,”  He’s a bookseller I’ve known for years and occasionally placed books with for sale.  The agreement was that he’d appraise, sell, make payments, and keep 20%.

A few months later I called to see how it was progressing and if he had any funds. I told him I’d moved $10,000 in books to two dealers.

His response was weird. He whined at me that I was wrong to have sold books, that he had explained to me (he hadn’t) that a collection like this was “Worth more than the sum of its parts.” He was looking for an investor or institute to buy the lot.  Even if true, estates have to sell assets and close.  The time for institutes is before one passes away.

I checked this concept with a very high-end bookseller, a famous SF bookstore, and an expert on sci fi author estates.  In short: Harlan Ellison’s collection was sold off. So was Ray Bradbury’s.  No one buys the entire collection of a random hoarder to…do nothing with it.  Anything interesting is kept, the rest are sold.

He petulantly insisted he’d send the books back, but didn’t.

April 2022, at Indiana Comic Convention again, we spoke, and he agreed he’d get on with the selling.  By this time I’d sold most of the books at wholesale, including one buyer of $30,000 worth. I’d actually found the buyer he was looking for and told him that was an option.

Move forward to August 2022 and I told him the estate needed to wrap up and close. The attorney was waiting on some final paperwork and the house to sell, and the small items could catch up afterward, but the books were a significant chunk.  Vandenberg insisted he had a buyer lined up. I told him we needed conclusion by 31 Oct, over a year since he received the books.

Then it was November, and he was “waiting on the check.” I asked how much and he said, “$3000,” which seemed rather low, given the books and time involved.

Then it was December.  He would “Send a check on the 21st.”

On the 28th I queried and he told me he would get me the tracking number. I asked about the spreadsheet and he said he’d send that from his home computer. (BTW, I have screenshots and logs of all the texts and emails, professionally marked by an IT forensics examiner.)

I had my attorney (also a family law attorney, and assisting the estate with other matters) contact him informally. He was supposed to forward check and spreadsheet by the 2nd Wednesday in January.


I contacted the estate attorney to make it official.  He guaranteed the estate attorney he’d get it done.

February. I emailed:

Mr Vandenberg:

It has been another week with no check, nor a tracking number you claimed to have, nor the spreadsheet you claimed to have compiled. Our mail preview shows NOTHING from you or NJ reaching our local post office.  This is the fourth such failure in two months.

Immediately upon receipt of this email, please forward the spreadsheet of the books you have valuated to $3000.

Assuming a tracking number exists for any of these checks you claim to have mailed, forward that.

If, as I suspect, these do not exist, I offer these three options:

Document the books, and commence making some sort of payments.  You can send an initial $100 in earnest money, and payments on a reliable basis.  The spreadsheet will work, or clear photos of the spines of the books.

Call or email me with a credit card number. There is a 4% processing fee.

Or, I will provide the address of an established buyer and you can ship the books safely packed to him, at your expense, given the 16 month delay in accomplishing this very simple task.  I will need tracking numbers and photos of the packed boxes.





Wed, Feb 8, 11:00 AM

to me, Craig

Ok, First things first. Which one of you am I to be talking to? Because I not answering every question nor sending every query twice to two separate people. For instance, the last communication I got was from Craig after me asking for you to check since let's be completely honest the organization skills that you Michael have exhibited are not particularly breathtaking during this entire process. I would prefer to have had the check buried than cancel and renew. His answer was I will check. 


I guess I will have to be confident that has taken place, but considering the fiasco and time sink this has turned into I would prefer confirmation.


Please confirm the address right here and I will reissue the check for the 2400. In regards to a list of the books, this is what I have. When your girl rolled up a luggage cart of boxes you nor her nor anyone else asked anything beyond looking at the books and telling you what I thought about them then seeing if I could sell them. There was no discussion of timeline, or record keeping which I would have expected you to have done before handing anything over to anyone. I looked at what was there and marked it as in good condition. This is what I have. 


Beyond that, please indicate to whom I will be talking and where I should send the check. If any other questions need to be asked, please indicate to whom I should direct my answers and then once you confirm that the check is not there (I don't even know what mail preview means nor do I really care), I will send it. After that Mike, Lose my number. Seriously.


My best,


Alexi Vandenberg


Well, you’re talking to me, who’s selling the estate property, unless you’d rather talk to an attorney, who is copied on the email.

If I’d received a check to the estate, it would have been deposited and this would all be over.  But I confirmed yet again that no, we haven’t received any checks. (I strongly suspect none have been sent, ever.)


He then demanded that when this was over that I “lose his number,” which is typically the bluster of someone who knows they’ve screwed up, to try to paint themselves as the victim.



So I emailed back:

Mike Williamson 

Wed, Feb 8, 11:31 AM

to info, Craig

Make check to


send to

c/o [my address]

Confirming, as I have before, no payment from you has reached here, despite your statements of checks on 22 Dec, 4 Jan, and last week.

Our archived communications make it quite clear what was discussed.  You were to sell the books and forward funds.  You went on some strange spiritual journey to find someone to buy them as some sort of historical archive, which was never going to happen.  I had hoped that a professional bookseller with a convention footprint would sell more books faster and for more money than I could.  

Thank you for finally resolving this matter.





 Ten days (Feb 17th  2023) later I sent this:

Mr Vandenberg:

It has been another 10 days with no checks from you. I am confirming, for the 6th time since Dec 21, 2022, that none have been received.

The USPS sends us daily scans of our incoming mail.  Nothing from you, or from NJ, has arrived at the Post Office since your first claim of mailing on 21 December.

 As to your spreadsheet, which per the file log, you created April 1, 2022, at 1117 AM (6 months after books were transferred to you) and last updated Feb 8, 2022 at 0943 before sending it to me:

 You have listed title and author/editor only with numerous misspellings. There is no format, edition, or condition listed, nor who actually signed, or if it was signed, personalized, or inscribed. There are no prices/values listed.  Yet somehow, you claim to have found a buyer for the lot.

 Despite that, I used your existing minimal info to find the lowest eBay price for these items, and came up with $8851.  Per my existing sales, I would expect to sell them for about 66% of that price, or $5842.  Were I to make a wholesale transaction, it would be about $4425. (Edited spreadsheet attached.)

 You harassed me at length for selling the other books from the estate, insisting that the collection was “worth more than the sum of its parts.”  Yet, your claimed sale amount of $3000 is ridiculously lowball based on the sales the estate has already made, about 34% of the minimum estimated value. Note that certain titles, in rare or first editions, would push the value HIGHER than I have shown.

 You were brought into this because you were reputed to be a bookseller of some expertise.

Based on all the above, here’s my interpretation:

 You still have the books and want them for your collection. As I said at the beginning, this is perfectly acceptable.  Assign a fair price, take off 20% for the work involved, and send payments. 

Alternately, one of my existing wholesale buyers will pay $4425 for the lot. Delivery will need to be arranged. 

 If you actually did sell them that cheaply, it is a done deal, but I am very unimpressed.  However, in that case, I expect at this point you will Priority Mail the check the estate has still not received, to me to be logged on the account, and I will forward it to the executor to be deposited.  That should reach me NLT Wednesday, 22 Feb, 2023.

 Send to


Estate of Gary Kitchen

c/o [my address.]


You may also email/call with a valid credit card number, with a 4% transaction fee, since you’ve already really lowballed the estate on value.

You need not worry about me “losing your number” after this exchange is complete. It is certain I will never do business with you in any capacity ever again.

The estate of the deceased, multiply-decorated combat veteran and war hero needs its assets, either as books or as money, immediately.

Copied to Atty Doyle for record.


The log showed the spreadsheet was created right after Indiana Comic Con 10 months earlier, modified 6 times, most recently that very morning. It contained author/editor and title.  It did not contain a format, edition, printing, condition description, itemized whether autographed by author, editor, artist, contributor, whether just signed, personalized, or inscribed, nor an assessed value.  It was complete crap and obviously a poor attempt at CYA.

 And we still have not received payment, to benefit the disabled niece of the multiply decorated combat veteran and locally respected sci fi fan.

 Believe me, Rabid Fanboi, losing your phone number won’t be a problem. We are never doing business again.  You fucked over the estate of a veteran with 13 combat decorations during Vietnam, the money to go to his disabled niece, probably because you really like the books and are a deadbeat who can’t pay for them. But let me confirm yet again: There have been no checks, credit card payments, or cash, sent to the estate, anyone involved, or me.


There’s a serious ball of snakes here, let me see if I can untangle some of it.

The BATFEces have once again decided that something they said was perfectly legal is now, haha, we were only kidding, it’s a felony.  First they said the pistol brace was okay, then they said if you shouldered it that constituted a “redesign” as a stock. Then after my attorney and I trolled them mercilessly with a Rule 34 question (Search for “Wrist brace” and “Fleshlight” for that story), they decided a wrist brace was a wrist brace.  Now it’s a stock again, well sort of.

For those not familiar, the summary is that a wrist brace lets a weaker or disabled shooter support a heavier handgun.  Then a bunch of people started putting braces on things that are pretty close to actual rifles, and possibly violate the spirit of the law, but guess what? Law is about letters, not spirits, so the ATF can suck it.

Ironically, in most of the rest of the world with much stricter gun control, a pistol is a pistol, and slapping a brace, a stock, a bipod, or a pintle mount on it doesn’t change the fact it’s a pistol. The problem here is the National Firearms Act, orchestrated in 1934 by a bunch of ignorant, racist Democrats (but I repeat myself) to stop black people from defending themselves or subsistence hunting (“Poaching”) in the midst of the Great Depression. Pistols were first going to be banned, then not, and rifles weren’t mentioned, then were. There are very convoluted guidelines as to when a pistol stops being a pistol, even though most of the mods will make it less concealable, which for that crowd should be a good thing.

Anyway ATF has reversed its position, now says a brace is a stock unless you can wade through 273 pages of definition on the difference, but they may re-interpret again at any point and declare you a felon, so why don’t you do the patriotic (?!?!?) thing and register it as an SBR—Short Barreled Rifle.  Graciously, unlike with the Bumpfire Stock, that didn’t “convert a rifle into a machine gun by harnessing the recoil energy,” no matter what DJ Trump claimed via his proxy gimp Jeff Sessions, the ATF will allow you to register the weapon, for free, under amnesty.

So, your options are:

A: Register it as a Short Barreled Rifle, under amnesty, for free, and get an NFA stamped form.  DOWNSIDE: You must file a Form 20 for permission every time you want to take it out of state. NOTE: No, sticking a rifle barrel on doesn’t make it not an NFA weapon. Once it is on the Registry, it remains an SBR, no matter what barrel you put on it, unless you ask them to remove it from the Registry, and either destroy it or make it not an SBR.
2) You can remove the brace.  The brace is perfectly legal on any rifle it fits. If you own such a rifle, you now have a rifle accessory, and a pistol with no brace. You may eventually be able to put it back on, if the courts do their job and tell ATF to cut the crap. Or, you can apply for a stamp later if you wish. It will cost $200.  It might be worth the wait.
c] You can leave it in illegal format.  I recommend against this. I especially recommend against beating your, um, chest on social media that “I WILL NOT COMPLY!”  Unless you really hate your dog and want ATF to shoot him when they come to arrest you.
IV} You can destroy the brace (if you’re an idiot) or surrender it to ATF (if you’re a bigger idiot).
E. You can destroy the weapon (if you’re a moron) or surrender it to ATF (if you’re a complete retard).

There was a claim they’ve decided any imported braced pistol was retroactively illegally imported (because rifles, have to meet “sporting purposes”).  922R only applies to manufacture, not possession, and an imported pistol remains a pistol. Once stamped as an SBR, 922R doesn’t matter.   This appears to be another possibly deliberate obfuscation for clickbait. An attorney dismantles both that claim and the below “88 day” claim here:


There is some weird talk of an “88 day rule” that if the ATF hasn’t processed your form in 88 days it’s an automatic denial, you now own an illegal weapon, and they will arrest you. I’ve even heard lawyers claiming this (EDIT: The lawyer was misquoted).

Now, here’s my background:

The trusts I belong to own about 20 NFA weapons in every category (Machine gun, destructive device, silencer, short barreled rifle, short barreled shotgun…I guess we don’t own an Any Other Weapon. I’ll have to fix that). I and my firearm specialist attorney assisted a friend’s estate with everything from machine guns to rocket launchers and mortars (seriously. This guy made Burt Gummer look like a wannabe).  Form 1 and Form 4 stamps for these have taken up to 19 MONTHS to process.  88 days would be great.  Strangely, no automatic denials happened, even on the one that cleared last week.

So I have no idea where this “88 days will automatically deny and make you a felon” comes from.  And even if there’s a denial, which can happen due to the complications of the paperwork, I can assure you first hand:

Corrections and resubmissions happen all the time. I’ve seen forms with wrong manufacturer names, wrong countries of origin, wrong item descriptions, wrong calibers, wrong barrel lengths, WRONG SERIAL NUMBERS.  AND COMBINATIONS OF

THREE OF THE ABOVE.  They all cleared eventually, one taking four resubmissions.

Appeals happen all the time. They deny, you appeal. It sometimes takes a lawyer.

In either case, ATF will send you a letter advising you of your options.

Worst case, you just go with 2), c], IV}, or E. above.  Problem solved.

Per my attorney, the 88 day thing turned out to be an auto denial time line for the background check. In other words, if FBI initiates the background check portion of your stamp application and then does nothing for 88 days, it's a denial. Except that part takes about 15 minutes per name, unless your fingerprint cards are a mess, the same as a standard NICS check at an FFL, and FBI processes millions a month. 10 million new checks wouldn't grind that to a halt.  And, the process can be re-initiated. They don’t shoot your dog if some magic deadline expires.  See above.

Now, is this “reinterpretation” of the wrist brace complete bullshit? Yes.

Do you have to comply in some fashion? The law says yes, and I’m not about to advise you otherwise. I don’t have a dog, but I like my cats and my extensive collection.  Every issue above was resolved with sufficient correspondence and/or advice from attorneys, and got everything squared away with no threats, seizures, confiscations, or jail. Get yourself a free SBR stamp and jump hoops, or just take it off, stick it in a closet or on a rifle, and wait to see how the case plays out in court.

NOTE: This assumes you have a rifle that can take said brace.  If not, get one, or hand the brace to a friend who does not have a compatible pistol. The brace is not an issue, nor the pistol. It’s the combination.

NOTE 2: ATF says these constitute Short Barreled Rifles, with stocks, even though they have a brace, but until they’re approved, you can’t swap the brace for a stock, because the brace is not a stock, except when it is a stock.  Aesop could not be reached for comment. However, that’s a good crack for a legal prybar to break this idiocy.

NOTE 3: It’s okay to hate bureaucrats.