Last and final

Is it just me, or does the mechanical voice on the New Jersey Transit train announcing NY Penn is the next and final stop on the line sound just a little too triumphant?

Still, I suppose it's better than laughing . . .
The Black Bear Liberation Army . . .

. . . strikes in New Hampshire.

(AP) — A black bear walked into a New Hampshire house through an open door, ate two pears and a bunch of grapes, took a drink from the family fishbowl and grabbed a stuffed bear on its way out the door.

If I were the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, I'd be very worried.
The proper use of Kleenex

Message on the side of Kleenex tissue pack:

Directions for Use: It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling. Use only as a facial tissue.

(Honest. I'm not making that up.)

You can imagine the conversation on the way to the big house . . .

What are you in for, kid?

Uh, I had this tissue, see, and rather than blowing my nose with it . . .
Wylie update . . .

The fracas on e-books continues.

I don't really understand why OTHER writers are being punished, but then that does seem to be the way things always go - the someones who catch it are always writers.

Anyway, here's a link to the Authors Guild statement on the issue, which pretty much sums up things:

This is the most important development in electronic publishing since Apple entered the market offering publishers an "agency model" for selling e-books. Several aspects of the Wylie/Amazon/Random House entanglement merit comment:

Full statement here.


All right, proper cover. Sheesh. Everybody's a critic . . .

When Lee Lawless was talking in the bar the other night, I didn't realize she was doing research for a sequel to her recently published short story in More Stories from the Twilight Zone. Shouldn't we all get a free drink or something?

(That's actually the wrong book up there. You can get the right one here. Or get the one my story is in here.)
Afghan leaks (2)

A few more random thoughts on the documents and the related stories . . .

1. The reports (and therefore the stories they're based on) are mostly ground level/unprocessed reports, and they will be criticized as such. It's true that they are very susceptible to rumor and the like, but they are not as far off or as inaccurate as some will claim. The biggest problem is reading them out of context. So: a grain of salt, not a bagful.

2. There are a lot of references to ISI (Pakistani intelligence) in the documents - don't buy the critics' 'no smoking gun' defense.

3. The documents aren't an argument for or against involvement in Afghanistan. What they are is an argument that Pakistan is not the gung ho ally some have pretended it is.

4. The Guardian, which was the other paper that initially began reporting on the papers, has an interesting animated graphic that shows where IED attacks have taken place. Let the graphic run and draw your own conclusions. (Graphic page is here.)

5. You didn't think the Secretary of State's saying that Pakistan knew where Osama was last week was just a coincidence, did you? Do you believe it now?

6. The Pakistan connection is the most explosive bit in the stories from a MSM point of view, but there are many other interesting facets. My favorite so far (I haven't finished reading) is the one about the aircraft tasked to shoot down the UAV - do you get a little tally marker on the fuselage for that?
Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the obvious

No surprises here, but a good report nonetheless . . .
Pakistan Aids Insurgency in Afghanistan, Reports Assert
Published: July 25, 2010
Military documents reflect deep suspicions among U.S. officials that Pakistan’s spy service has for years guided the Afghan insurgency with a hidden hand.
Full story here. Should be mandatory reading.

Agents as publishers

The big news in the book world the other day was the announcement by agent Andrew Wylie that the agency would begin publishing ebooks of some of its (famous) clients on its own.
This naturally upset a number of publishers, but it's not surprising at all. The rapid changes in technology, as well as actions by publishers themselves, have dramatically changed the model the book world has followed since the dawn of the mass market paperback era. In many instances the value of what traditional publishers do has decreased to such an extent that they have become almost irrelevant - or in this case, completely irrelevant.

Publishers are aware of this, in varying degrees, but they haven't been able to solve it. I don't think the problem is unsolvable in the whole, but it will be very difficult for publishers to add real value to books such as those Wylie is epubbing - established classics (for the most part) that are so famous they far transcend any publisher, be it a traditional press or an unknown. Without control of the distribution network - something Amazon realized two or three years ago - publishers have very little to offer in those cases.

One reaction has been to try and claim all rights and, in effect, partial authorship of works. Neither is a sustainable strategy, however. The former depends on the importance of physical books, which is declining; the latter implies that editors are more important than the authors, a difficult argument to sustain even in the alleged golden age of publishing. Who believes that Max Perkins contributed more to a particular book than the writer?

I don't think the ultimate answer is going to be agents publishing books. Those are two different roles. Agents have a great deal at stake in publishers' survival - you don't need middlemen if one of the sides disappears. But as a strategy to further encourage change - which everyone thinks was the real reason Wylie went ahead with the plan - the attention is justified.

This may simply make publishers dig in harder; unbundling rights is already a bigger issue in many negotiations than the dollars. But if that's all they do, it will be a failing position. Publishers have to take more steps to restore value to their part of the equation.

Chinese UFO?

Or a test firing of a new missile?

Well actually, neither, as the video is a Progress-M launch over Biakonur. See here.

Read all the way to the bottom. The rest of the post, by the way, does an excellent job of discussing the actual sighting, which may or may not have been a test firing of a solid-fueled anti-ship variant of the DF-21.

I really do like the music on this version of the video, even though it's not the original . . .
Random Omar

One of the things that happens when you're working on a big-topic non-fiction book like a biography is that you end up with all sorts or random facts that just don't fit anywhere.

But they feel like they ought to.


Such as: on D Day-plus three or four, Bradley's headquarters was overrun by OSS members presumably looking for a helping hand. It became so chaotic that he eventually banned all OSS operations except for those run by one officer whom he had dealt with before.

Which means that problems between the army and the CIA basically date back to the CIA's inception. And that Bradley didn't find the OSS people directly useful. (There are some references to human spies in A Soldier's Story, but it's generally interpreted as a cover for Ultra, still top secret when the book was published.)

Can't find a good place for it in the bio, though.
Survival skills

Opening wine without a corkscrew. (It's easier if you speak French while you're doing it . . .

And to think I've used a screwdriver all these years . . .

Who do you write like?

Chandler, Shakespeare, Cussler . . .

Check here:

(Warning - it's addictive.)

From the Dept. of Realpolitik
Or how things really work


Spy Swap Forced Prosecutors Into Balancing Act

On June 29, two days after the arrests of ten Russian agents in New York and three other States, Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, called an emergency meeting of his closest aides. Their criminal case, he was aware, was fast becoming a deal being orchestrated b politicians and diplomats.

Mr. Bharara told his aides that he had just learned that serious talks were under way at the highest levels of the American and Russian governments for a spy exchange that would end the criminal prosecution. He knew the idea of a swap had been discussed in the Obama administration as a way to resolve a potentially delicate situation at a time when the United States and Russia were trying to improve relations. But there had been no indication that a deal would come together so quickly.

“Is it appropriate for us to even be considering these sorts of things?” Mr. Bharara said he had asked his lieutenants. “Should we ever acquiesce in a trade?”

The proudly independent Manhattan federal prosecutor’s office and the Justice Department “should never be an extension of or a rubber stamp for the White House,” he said, adding, “I feel that very strongly.”


How many people think the exchange wasn't contemplated* before the arrests? Raise your hands . . .

Times story here.

* In fairness, a careful reading of the story doesn't contradict that. But you're definitely supposed to get the impression this is one no-nonsense, in-charge prosecutor here. I'm sure he is - but this case isn't Exhibit A.

Pouring your blood into your book . . .

. . . literally.

Luxury publisher Kraken Opus mixed in a pint of Mr. Tendulkar's blood with paper pulp to create the signature page for a book celebrating the renowned batsman's career. The 10 limited-edition copies, which comes out in February, cost $75,000 each and have already sold out.

Kraken is one of a handful of high-end publishing houses that are pushing the boundaries of extravagance and novelty in the luxury book market. Such books are being treated as investments and sometimes commanding prices usually reserved for original art works.

Full story here.
The reception solution you've been waiting for . . .

Item: Steve Jobs says iPhone fix coming; in meantime, customers can supply their own.

So that's why they're all wearing tinfoil hats . . .
A health care model to emulate

The envy of the world, no less . . .

The World Health Organization has said an Amnesty International report critical of North Korea's health system is unscientific and outdated.

WHO spokesman Paul Garwood insisted he wasn't criticizing Amnesty's work. But he said Thursday's report was anecdotal, with stories dating back to 2001. He contrasted that with WHO's science-based approach. Amnesty's report contradicted the rosier picture given by WHO chief Margaret Chan after her April trip there.

Chan said the communist country provides universal coverage and is the ''envy'' of developing nations. Amnesty cited amputations without anesthesia and payments to get care.Asked Friday what countries are envious of North Korea's health, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said she couldn't name any.


I don't intend to speak ill of the dead, but it's interesting how radically the views of George Steinbrenner have shifted over the past decade.

Steinbrenner was a very mixed blessing and quite often a curse for Yankee fans, especially during the first two decades of his ownership. And it was his formal removal from the sport and the team that helped set the stage for the revival in the mid-90s.

The papers are filled with considerable nonsense today. Here's a typical quote: "Steinbrenner famously challenged his players." Embarrassed and belittled would be more appropriate words, even in the example the writer gave.

I'm not a hater, but distorting and exaggerating the record do no one any good - not Steinbrenner, certainly, and more importantly not anyone who wishes to emulate his success.

The Voice of God was a Navy man . . .

And other facts you didn't know about Bob Sheppard:

“So I looked around and found out the Navy was interviewing men—qualified men—to become naval officers, which would be a little bit more pay than a sailor. And I dropped in, in Manhattan one day, where the recruitment office was located and I said, ‘I’m here to enquire. Not to join (laughter). I’m here to enquire about the possibility of getting a Navy assignment.

“And the man said, ‘Well . . . you’re old enough. You’re healthy enough, I guess. While you’re here, without any decision on your part, why don’t you just go in the back. The doctor’s there and he’ll examine you and see if you’re fit. If you’re not fit, I’ll tell you that.’

“So I went in the back, and the doctor went over me, and he said, ‘You’re fine.’ I went in front, and I said, ‘The man said I’m fine.’

“He said, ‘That’s step number one.’

“I said, ‘Wait a minute! Step number—I’m not here to join, I’m here to enquire!’

Column here.
Now batting for the angels . . .

The Iron Man of stadium announcers. Bob Sheppard, passed away today.

Sheppard never too a swing, but his voice will haunt Yankee Stadium forever. He proved there could be poetry in a lineup card.

My friend Jay-roam did a column on him before he died, asking what the secret was to his distinctive style. "Very simple young man," he said in his sententious voice. "Enunciate."


A life directive if ever there was one.
Some things aren't meant to be solo . . .

Just back from the International Thriller Writers convention, where I was very pleased to learn that Robert Ludlum doesn't research his sex scenes solo.

Saw the usual suspects and a bunch of new ones. Dave Hagberg has a new book out, which he was flogging to every bartender he met. Which is a lot of bartenders. I'm definitely looking for it on the NYT best-seller list later this month.

Then there was the legendary editor who was alternating drinks with Cokes. But I promised not to blow his cover . . .
Ciao, Italia . . .

Bummer on the World Cup loss, I know, but I still love you guys . . .

(Leopards Kill - or the Claw of the Leopard - now available in Italian translation.)
It was so hot today . . .

You could smell the sun frying the grass.

Well weeds, in my case. But you get the idea.
Jan Swafford

I mentioned Jan Swafford the other day because of something he* wrote about ebooks. Here's a belated link to his page at Random House, and another to his biography of Johannes Brahms, available at

He's also a composer who's done a number of orchestral pieces. He's said to be working on a biography of Beethoven. Given his track record, it's bound to be an important book.

*I got his gender wrong in the original post. Sorry about that.
Claws of the Leopard . . .

The Italian translation of Leopards Kill just came out, and it has an interesting title:

Gli Artigli Del Leopardo

My Italian is just barely good enough for me to figure out that that means something along the lines of Claws of the Leopard. I think the translator was a little nervous when he told me about it, but I like it. It has kind of a nice ring to it.

The original still confuses people, who sometimes wonder who it is who's being killed. And then there's the folks who are convinced from the title it's a nature book . . .
Team Swish

How can you not vote for this guy?

Well all right, if you're a Boston fan. But otherwise, click here.

(While there, check out his video. You have to run it from that page, because it won't easily embed.)