Why some people still smoke . . .


The tobacco hornworm or Manduca sexta chases away its predators by its nasty nicotine breath, a new study has revealed. The bug uses a nifty trick to convert some of its food into a cloud of poisonous compound that repels its enemies.


Works on humans, too.

Drone touching . . . or not


The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday said it had selected sites in a handful of states to test unmanned aircraft systems, a crucial step in the integration of drones into the national airspace.
The FAA selected teams based in Virginia, Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota and Texas. Several teams included other states in their bids, meaning drone testing will also take place in Hawaii, Oregon and New Jersey.
Each test site will be responsible for testing drones in a different context. Nevada, for instance, will do much of the research on unmanned vehicles’ impact on air traffic control. North Dakota will test the data links between drones and their controllers. New York will test the sense-and-avoid technologies crucial for keeping drones away from people and other aircraft. . . .

. . . because in New York we're sensitive about touching, especially where drones are concerned.


What downsizing feels like . . . 

. . . at least one ex-employee could find the humor ... the company didn't, and "suspended" him a few hours before laying him off. Kind of shows why they couldn't make the stores work in the first place, actually.

Benghazi redux, review, revise . . .

The NYT takes a shot at Benghazi:

Yet as the militiamen snacked on Twinkie-style cakes with their American guests, they also gushed about their gratitude for President Obama’s support in their uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. They emphasized that they wanted to build a partnership with the United States, especially in the form of more investment. They specifically asked for Benghazi outlets of McDonald’s and KFC.
The diplomat, David McFarland, a former congressional aide who had never before met with a Libyan militia leader, left feeling agitated, according to colleagues. But the meeting did not shake his faith in the prospects for deeper involvement in Libya. 


You get the feeling that the story about the murder of the Americans there will be onion-like in its layers and Rorschach-like in its interpretations . . . and that the full story will ultimately never be revealed.

Maybe it can only be told in fiction. Where's Graham Greene when you need him?
Thanks . . .

. . . to everyone for making "Hog Noel" one of the top five free books in its categories this past week.

Unfortunately, we now have to charge for the story. It's set at the lowest price we're allowed, 99 cents. Hopefully, you think it's worth it.

It's here if you haven't read it.

Iraq continues to boil . . .

Iraqi forces have arrested an MP, killing his brother and five of his guards during a raid on his home in the western city of Ramadi.
Ahmed al-Awlani, a member of the Sunni community, had backed protests against the mainly Shia government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and was reportedly wanted on terrorism charges.
Police said Mr Awlani's guards opened fire as officers arrived to detain him.
Another 18 people were wounded in the ensuing skirmish, an official said.
BBC story.

We think of the war as over, but in fact there is more sectarian violence in Iraq than when the U.S. pulled out. On the one hand, al Qaeda extremists are targeting anyone working with the government, and recently staged some prominent attacks in Baghdad. On the other hand, the Shiite-dominated government is widely viewed by Sunnis (and some Shiites) as being a puppet of Iran. It all makes for a bloody mess.

What's interesting in this "arrest" - besides the possible unconstitutionality of it - is the fact that it took place in Ramadi, a city that saw a great deal of fighting during the American occupation. (We touch on a small part of the battle in American Sniper.) Ramadi was immediately declared a success of American kumbaya policy* - more a pr a statement than something factual.

Nation-building was mostly bullshit; the heavy lifting was done by American bullets and bombs. Once the Americans left, the fighting resumed and will undoubtedly continue to escalate.

* After the folk song where everyone joins hands around the fire and lives happily ever after.

If you like the movie . . .

. . . A Christmas Story (the tale of Jean Shepherd's childhood Christmas), you'll want to check out this article by Donald Fagen.


 . . .Long before A Christmas Story was made, [Jean] Shepherd did a nightly radio broadcast on WOR out of Manhattan that enthralled a generation of alienated young people within range of the station's powerful transmitter. Including me: I was a spy for Jean Shepherd.

Story on Slate.

Wishing all a merry Christmas . . .

. . .  may peace and happiness be under your tree and in your lives this year.
Merry Christmas!

This one stars A-Bomb, and it's free for as long as I'm allowed to give it away at Amazon.

Kalashnikov dies


Mikhail Kalashnikov, the former Red Army sergeant behind one of the world’s most omnipresent weapons — the AK-47 and its variants and copies, used by national armies, terrorists, drug gangs, bank robbers, revolutionaries and jihadists — died Dec. 23 at a hospital in Izhevsk, Russia. He was 94.


Without doubt, the AK was and remains the most important rifle made after World War II. Admired, criticized, copied, but never quite duplicated.

James Ferro, not . . .

My wife brought up a good point about the Hogs series - why are the short stories, which were never published and in fact only recently written, credited by "Jim DeFelice writing as James Ferro"?

Pseudonyms die hard, I guess.

Free - but not yet

A new Hogs Christmas story is offered on Kindle here. But don't get it today - it's free from Christmas Eve through Saturday. (The regular price is 99 cents.)

I'd prefer it was free forever, but Amazon won't let me do that.

Coming soon . . .

. . .  to a Kindle near you - a free Hogs Christmas story.

Unfortunately, the way our arrangement with Amazon works, the story can only be offered free for a very limited time - five days. After that, we have to charge for it, and it has to be offered for sale for a total of ninety days or something along those lines. We will set the price as low as is allowed.

Look for it early next week - I'll post when it's up.
Questions . . .

. . . and a few answers.

Ethan Jones is kindly hosting a Q & A with me this week at his site:


Check out the site: there are a lot more interesting things going on over there than my babbling.

Most of the questions have to do with the Rogue Warrior series, but there are a couple on writing in general. One question I wasn't asked but often am about Rogue: Which is my favorite book? The answer is easy - the original nonfiction memoir, which Dick wrote with John Weisman.

At the moment, though, the most relevant is Dictator's Ransom, which is about North Korea and the problems of succession . . . as the father of ST6 would say, was it fiction or prediction?

Lone Survivor

The 60 Minutes interview, part 1.

Part 2.

The movie depicting the battle will open just after Christmas.

Jail's too good for him


John Donald Cody, who operated under the pseudonym Commander Bobby Thompson, was fined more than $6 million in addition to the prison sentence for overseeing a bogus charity called the U.S. Navy Veterans Association, which preyed on people's sympathy for American military veterans at a time of war.
The charges of theft, fraud, money laundering and the use of false identities stemmed from Cody's stewardship of the organization, which raised millions, but when examined by authorities, offered little proof that money was used to assist veterans.

In North Korea, things get crazier


SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said on Friday that Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of its leader Kim Jong-un and considered his mentor, was executed for trying to mobilize the military to stage a coup.

Purge to follow. The only question is what follows that.

Even the Chinese are worried. Meanwhile, Dennis Rodman will visit in a week.

Cookies, my precious . . .

Iran's nuclear missile program isn't on hold

Delivering monkeys . . .

. . . or nukes?


TEHRAN (FNA)- Iran will launch its 7th research rocket called Kavoshgar (Explorer) into space by the end of the next week, Deputy Defense Minister and Head of Iran's Aerospace Organization General Mehdi Farahi announced on Tuesday.
“Kavoshgar 7 will be launched next week as the next part of the plan to send living creatures into space,” Farahi said in Kish Island today.
Story. (The photo there is of a much less capable rocket.)

That's a new word for it


19-Year-Old Will Lose His Virginity in Front of a Crowd for the Sake of Art

Although it may be significant that he's 19, still a virgin, and willing to admit it . . .

'Early' King

An interview with Stephen King when he was still relatively young - and had "only" ten best-sellers.

A knock on NOCs . . .


Twelve years after the CIA began a major push to get its operatives out of embassy cubicles and into foreign universities, businesses and other local perches to collect intelligence on terrorists and rogue nations, the effort has been a disappointment, current and former U.S. officials say. Along with other parts of the CIA, the budget of the so-called Global Deployment Initiative, which covers the NOC program, is now being cut.
"It was a colossal flop," a former senior CIA official said in sentiments echoed by a dozen former colleagues, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a classified program.



What Boeing wants

Boeing has decided to move production of one of its newest aircraft production out of Washington, and is looking for a "friendly" state to locate in. Here's how they define friendly:

Among the “desired incentives” sought by Boeing, the biggest items are these:
• “Site at no cost, or very low cost, to project.”
• “Facilities at no cost, or significantly reduced cost.”
• “Infrastructure improvements provided by the location.”
Additional incentives it lists include:
• Assistance in recruiting, evaluating and training employees.
• A low tax structure, with “corporate income tax, franchise tax, property tax, sales/use tax, business license/gross receipts tax, and excise taxes to be significantly reduced.”
• “Accelerated permitting for site development, facility construction, and environmental permitting.”
Other factors that will be “significant” when Boeing makes its choice early next year include:
• Low overall cost of doing business, “including local wages, utility rates, logistics costs, real estate occupancy costs, construction costs, applicable tax structure obligations.”
• The quality, cost and productivity of the available workforce.
• Predictability of utilities pricing and government regulation.

Basically, the world's leading manufacturer of aircraft is looking for a deal similar to what Russian oligarchs get from Russia. Actually, a little better.

Why don't they ask for a baseball stadium and call it a day?

HOGS 6 now an ebook . . .

Book 6 in the Hogs series, now available on Kindle here. We're working on the Nook edition . . .

Beware of blast

Today's project . . .

When the tough gotta get where the tough gotta go.

Will zeppelins fly again?

Watch out, UPS . . .

Amazon's drones may be OK for delivering a book or a pair of gloves, but how do you deliver a big Cat dozer to Siberia?

Robin Young of Amur Minerals Corp wants to dig for nickel and copper in Siberia where forbidding winters and poor roads make it tough to haul in equipment. His best option: fly it in with zeppelins.

Iran bobs and weaves . . .


 TEHRAN: Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehihas said Tehran will never abandon the Arak heavy water reactor, considering it a "red line" in talks with world powers, media reported on Sunday.
"Your actions and words show you don't want us to have the Arak heavy water reactor which means you want to deprive us of our rights,"Salehi was quoted as saying by the website of state broadcaster IRIB.
"But you should know that it is a red line which we will never cross, likewise enrichment" of uranium.Arak is of concern because, in theory, it could provide the Islamic republic with plutonium - an alternative to highly enriched uranium used for a nuclear bomb.

Story. (It's been interesting to see the coverage in Indian newspapers, which has much more intensive than American or European.)

A Roguish sale

The ebook edition of Dictator's Ransom - where the Rogue Warrior ventures to North Korea and beyond - is now on sale for $2.99. You can get it from the Tor/MacMillan site here (scroll toward the bottom of the page), or at your favorite ebook provider.

We had a lot of fun with that one, writing about what "the loathsome dwarf" would do in his last days. Or as Dick would put it: Was it fiction, or prediction?

You be the judge.

Through the worst, love has and will still endure. That's a lot to be thankful for.

The 'deal' with Iran

Skepticism is only the start

There’s no way not to be skeptical about the deal with Iran to “freeze” its nuclear weapons program. Even aside from recent history and the character of the people involved, the stakes are so high that any deal must be viewed with deep skepticism.

Keeping nuclear weapons from the region is a worthwhile goal. But even if this deal leads to an agreement to do that, the impact is likely to be less clear cut than it seems.

First and most importantly, the present deal presents a clear timeline for action by the West. If suitable disarmament is not achieved in six months, then clearly the proper move by the West is to force that disarmament. And sanctions aren’t going to do it; only an attack on Iran’s facilities will.

A real agreement to disband the program would include abandonment of the nuclear weapons program and work on the delivery systems – no missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads should be allowed to exist in Iran. The country’s ongoing missile program has always been a clear sign of its leaders’ true intentions to build and deploy nuclear weapons; if it remains in place, there can be no doubt about what it really is up to.

But what if Iran is sincere and does freeze or completely disband its nuclear weapons program?

Iran will benefit simply by being able to sell its oil openly, but the up side is far greater than that. To the extent that an agreement leads to a rapprochement or even just an easing of relations with Western nations and China – not the U.S. – it will have a major impact on the current war between Shia and Sunni Islam.

The leaders of Iran have not only exported weapons and fighters in that conflict but have proselytized for a Shia-dominated Islam and Middle East; if Iran has more resources to use in that quest, it surely will. From a long-term point of view, stopping the nuclear program now allows Iran to deal with its immediate goals of dealing with the Sunnis. This is especially important if the leaders have concluded that they cannot use nuclear weapons against co-religionists, a belief that seems to be evident in many of their pronouncements. (You'll have to ask them why that doesn’t extend to other Children of Abraham.)

None of that changes the equation for Israel, which surely must see Iran as a constant threat, even without nukes. Allowing Iran to keep material that is only a few stages away from a bomb may never be acceptable. But what of the store of knowledge and experience that might be tapped secretly to restart a program in the future? That has to be considered a threat as well. The problem is how to neutralize that threat without weakening the nation in the long term. If a single attack on a nuclear plant would have guaranteed success, it would have been launched a long time ago.

Finally, as is already clear, any agreement will unsettle Iran’s Sunni neighbors, Egypt and Saudi Arabia especially. Ironically, their natural ally against Iran is  . . . Israel, which alone in the Middle East has a force strong enough to challenge it.

Iran's actual and verifiable abandonment of its nuclear weapons program would be a good thing. An agreement that stops short of that commitment is no agreement at all. But even if such a real deal to ban nukes completely is reached and fulfilled, it may ironically be the precursor to more conflict in the region.

Look closely . . .

. . .  that's a MiG-21 dressed in U.S. colors.

Part of an early '60s Cold War project to test the aircraft and other Soviet Union fighters. And guess what - it turned out to be pretty damn good.

More information and links at The Aviationist.

China vs. Japan

Things escalate

China continues to lurch toward a more aggressive foreign policies in Asia, as show here:

HONG KONG — The Chinese government warned on Saturday that it claimed the right to identify, monitor and possibly take military action against aircraft that enter a newly declared “air defense identification zone,” which covers sea and islands also claimed by Japan. The declaration appeared to be a step in China’s efforts to intensify pressure on Japan over the disputed islands in the East China Sea.

NY Times story.

Another story, with maps, from the BBC.

The aggression is part of an ongoing powerplay by China as it seeks to extend not only its influence but its access to natural resources in the region. A lot of this is about oil and gas, and because of that, it's unlikely the territorial disputes will be settled easily. The real question is what sort of reaction China will provoke in other countries, beginning with the U.S. and Japan, but just as importantly including smaller nations from Vietnam to the Philippines. The administration's so-called "pivot" to Asia in American foreign policy has not produced much in the way of counterbalances to China, nor has it had any noticeable effect on Chinese policy.

The news media remain fixated on the Middle East, but the conflicts in the Pacific are more critical to long-term U.S. interests, and potentially as difficult to resolve.

Chris Kyle & JFK

Whether or not every human being is connected by no more than six degrees of separation, I'm continually fascinated by the odd, weird and occasionally wonderful ways we seem to be related to each other. This being the anniversary of John F. Kennedy's death, I was reminded of my own very weak - very, very, very weak - connection to the event.

It came about this year, after the tragedy of Chris Kyle's murder. Stepping in to work on American Gun, I wanted to talk to some old-time police officers who swore by the .38 Special.* A friend put me in touch with a man who'd carried the gun for years and years - Jim Leavelle.

The same man who was walking Lee Harvey Oswald out of the police station when Jack Ruby appeared.

Chris had a lot of friends in the Dallas police department, and I know he heard the story of that day more than a few times. Here's the account from American Gun, in Chris's voice:
I started this chapter with a presidential assassination. It’s hard for a boy from Dallas to do that without thinking of Lee Harvey Oswald and that awful day back in 1963 when John F. Kennedy was shot down here. There are still plenty of folks around who were there and remember what all happened.
One of them is Jim Leavelle, who was walking Oswald down the ramp of the garage under police headquarters two days later when Jack Ruby shot him.
Jim, a friend of a friend, was a Dallas police officer for going on twenty-six years. If you’ve ever studied the JFK assassination, or even spent a bit of time looking at the photos, you’ve seen him at Oswald’s right in the light suit on the garage ramp as they walk down to take Oswald to court. Just as they come into view in the famous TV footage, Ruby ducks past an army of reporters and policemen. Leavelle starts to yank Oswald toward him out of the way, but Ruby’s too close. He fires into Oswald’s middle, then gets gang tackled.
Leavelle says he spotted Ruby’s pistol in the half-second after Ruby ducked around one of the other officers near the car. The retired officer is often asked by people why he didn’t shoot Ruby.
“It just happens so fast,” he tells them. “It always does. Sometimes you don’t have time to draw. You just react. That’s all you can do.”
That’s some hard-earned experience talking there. Training helps, good weapons help, but nothing beats fate, or dumb luck.
Leavelle was in a bunch of close scrapes over his career. He packed a number of weapons – a lot of .38s in just about every barrel length, a .45 Colt, a .38 Super, a .357 that he thought was a bit too heavy for an everyday carry. The day he escorted Oswald, he had two Colt .45s with him, but never had the chance to use them.
Ruby, by the way, killed Oswald with a .38 Special.

* I might have used my uncle, a former NYC policeman, but that seemed a little too close to nepotism, or maybe nephewism . ..
Patricia Cornwell's favorite book . . .

. . . is American Sniper.


Tell us about your favorite book of the year. 
Chris Kyle’s “American Sniper.” It’s an amazingly detailed account of fighting in Iraq — a humanizing, brave story that’s extremely readable. It will give you a much stronger appreciation of our troops, more awe for Navy SEALs and also insight into how wars are really fought today. 


Did I mention that she's my favorite crime/mystery writer?
Walking dog earns $100k

Clearly I walk the dog in the wrong place  . . .

Damn Van Damme

. . . how it might have gone.
Got health insurance?

No surprise here:

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress like to boast that they will have the same health care enrollment experience as constituents struggling with the balky federal website, because the law they wrote forced lawmakers to get coverage from the new insurance exchanges.
That is true. As long as their constituents have access to “in-person support sessions” like the ones being conducted at the Capitol and congressional office buildings by the local exchange and four major insurers. Or can log on to a special Blue Cross and Blue Shield website for members of Congress and use a special toll-free telephone number — a “dedicated congressional health insurance plan assistance line.”
And then there is the fact that lawmakers have a larger menu of “gold plan” insurance choices than most of their constituents have back home.

Meanwhile, my insurance premium has reached the point where I pay more for health care than my mortgage each month . . . and still have a fifty dollar a visit copay, no drug coverage, etc., etc. . . .

Maybe I'm the only one in the world that this has happened to, but my policy is more than the most expensive policy the same company offers through the NY Health Exchange. I can't switch due to the contract timing . . . yet.


I've always been fascinated with the family of high-speed sea planes and related aircraft, but I hadn't realized until recently that the Soviet Cold War designs were actually the work of an Italian. The original script for Ace Combat: Assault Horizon called for the descendant of one of these planes as a "boss" in the Black Sea sequences. alas, it didn't make it to the final cut.

St. Lo and our (mis)perception of history

One of the things that struck me while I was working on my biography of Omar Bradley* is how much misperception there is of the man. He’s not so much the blank slate of World War II but the punching bag.

Everyone from historians to political columnists have used him as a straw man for whatever sort of prejudice they have or point they want to make. Mostly that’s because:

a) readers don’t really know much about him, and
b) neither do historians.

There are a number of reasons for this, which I go into in the book. But it’s not just the fact that Bradley hasn’t had much attention. Much of what we focus on when looking at the history of World War II helps distort who he was.

Take, for example, the battle of St. Lo in Normandy. Capturing the city was an important accomplishment during the campaign that followed D-Day; it was an American victory. It was also a bloody mess that resulted in a pile of rubble and not much else. Because of the geography, lack of ammunition and a host of other factors, it was a slow, plodding affair, absolutely not what the Americans, or Bradley, wanted.

It happens, though, that because the battle lasted so long, we have a lot of specific information on it, which has allowed historians to focus on it. It’s often used as the last battle of the D-Day campaign – which of course it’s not. (That would be Cobra, a decidedly different affair, and the one plan completely drawn up by Bradley and followed to his specifications. And contrary to some historians’ contentions, there’s little evidence that Bradley saw St. Lo as the precursor to Cobra.)

There are a lot of things you can say about that battle. But if you look at it and think that it represents Bradley or American doctrine during the war, you’d be totally mistaken. Even if the historian writing about it doesn’t think that or say that, many readers will certainly get that impression if they spend a lot of time reading about it.

I should note that the documentary I’m in does end at that battle, and for that and many other reasons I don’t mean to exempt myself from the criticism of inappropriate context. But we do have to keep in mind that history, even at its most accurate, comes to us with many hidden strings. What we know is not always what we think we know, and what we think is often not what we know.

* which you can get here and here.

In Dutch:

Hello, Netherlands, and thanks.

(First time I've ever had a book translated into Dutch. I can't understand a word, but then that's not an unusual situation...)

Scanning books is fair use . . .

... says judge, dismissing what was a landmark case between authors and Google

Item from Reuters:

(Reuters) - Google Inc on Thursday won dismissal of a long-running lawsuit by authors who accused the Internet search company of digitally copying millions of books for an online library without permission.
U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin in Manhattan accepted Google's argument that its scanning of more than 20 million books, and making "snippets" of text available online, constituted "fair use" under U.S. copyright law.
Damn, Van Damme

It hurts just to watch this . . .

Speaking of Cobra . . .

. . .  this is the Army's official history of the attack.

There are a few things that'll make your eyes roll, but the footage of the troops and the terrain alone make it worth watching.

The visuals that always amaze me are the ones showing the sheer damage to St. Lo. The obliteration of French cities during the campaign is something quite often overlooked, even in the best books.

(Ignore the comments at the bottom of the page. Apparently the commentators didn't know that Patton wasn't involved in Cobra, or realize that Bradley's in the film to tout the Army's history series (including, it should be said, historians whose interpretations he didn't agree with). Then again, it's always interesting to see how the Patton-Bradley myths are perpetuated.)

What would 007 say?


A spy whose naked, decomposing body was found in a padlocked gym bag at his apartment likely died in an accident with no one else involved, British police said Wednesday. 
Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt said the death of Gareth Williams, whose remains were found inside a bag in his bathtub in August 2010, was "most probably" an accident.
"I'm convinced that Gareth's death was in no way linked to his work," Hewitt told Reuters. 

People lock themselves in gym bags all the time, I'm sure . . .

More D-Day books

Reading D-Day

One of the questions that I wasn't asked for the History Channel documentary, and that surely would have taken hours and hours to answer, is probably the most basic:

What's a good book to read if you're interested in D-Day?

Stephen Ambrose's D-Day is usually mentioned as one of the best introductions for a general reader, and I still remember my first reading when I was . . . a few years younger than I am today. Anthony Beevor's one volume D-Day is another good survey of the battle - and I'm not just saying that because he's in the History Channel documentary, too. (You should see my dog-eared copy, still tagged with a mountain of Post-It notes.) Max Hastings' Overlord is another good introduction, a bit older than the others, but still an excellent read.

After a general introduction, you might want to dig in a little deeper with Carlo d'Este's Decision in Normandy and John Keegan's Six Armies in Normandy. Both books take you well beyond D-Day, and in fact past Cobra, the battle that broke the american army out and set the stage for the race across France. Speaking of Cobra, James Jay Carafano's After D-Day is the best one-volume account of the battle I've found.

There are literally thousands of other books to round out the picture. You won't agree with every interpretation, not even (or especially not) in the best-known books, but that's part of the fun of history.

Veterans Day

I've attended my share of moving Veterans Day ceremonies over the years, but for me the most memorable was the one I missed.

It was 2006, and I was working on Rangers at Dieppe, an account* of the American Army Rangers first battle during World War II. I was on research trip to Great Britain and France, and was supposed to arrive in Dieppe on November 11, just before dawn, which would have been roughly the time that the Rangers had landed - along, of course, with a much larger contingent of British Commandos and the main Canadian force.

Things didn't quite work out for various reasons, mostly the weather, and I ended up arriving the next night. In the morning as I walked through the small city, I saw flower arrangements everywhere, as well as red poppies, a universal symbol of remembrance for the fallen in the wars. They were left from services that had taken place all around the city, services held every year.

What we call Veterans Day in the U.S. began as a celebration of the end of World War I; while many of the ceremonies in Europe recalled that conflict, in Dieppe the remembrances were largely devoted to World War II and the valiant but failed effort to rout the Germans from the city in 1942. The Americans played a very, very small part in that battle, but their courage and their blood was remembered as prominently and properly as the others'. Not only were the memorials decorated (there are no remaining American graves from the invasion battle that we know of), but in the days that followed, many of the residents I spoke mentioned their sacrifices and thanked our country for their efforts to free France. America had long forgotten about the small contribution of a handful of men in the battle; they hadn't.

As you'd expect, the French have their own perspective on the war; it's a complicated and heart-rending perspective, one with contradictions and complications. A lot has changed - I don't think the lingering resentment toward Germans that I encountered on my first visit to France in the late 1980s is anywhere near as virulent, if it even still exists. But one thing that hasn't changed is the French appreciation of the sacrifices others made for them in World War II. When they honor their dead, they honor the men and women from America and the rest of the world who fought besides them. American graves are still tended with loving care, as their own.

There's a slogan many of us use: Never forget. For me, Dieppe proved the sentiment is more than just words. We owe a large debt not only to those who have served, but to those who have helped us remember the importance of their sacrifices.

* Actually, the account, as I believe it's the only book-length investigation.


In talking about Bradley and D-Day, it occurs to me that the two battles where Bradley's armies had their worst problems came in terrain he probably didn't fully understand before his men fought there: the "boccage" or hedgerow country of Normandy, France, and the Hurtgen forest.

I realize it's way too simplistic to say that the Americans got bogged down in both places because their overall commander had never hunted in their fields. And Bradley did have intelligence and photos demonstrating what the terrain was like. (And ignorance is never a defense.) Still, neither he nor his army had fought in that kind of terrain before, his overall tactics and battle doctrine were ill-adapted to it, he didn't really have the right equipment for it (though who did), and the analogies an American would make upon hearing the area described are very misleading. Taken together with equipment shortages and everything else plaguing the allies, it shouldn't be surprising that it took the Americans a few weeks to figure it out.

I've often thought that the biggest problem of fighting in the hedgerow country began with semantics: when an American hears the word "hedges," he thinks of those cute little things in front of suburban houses. Everyone who's studied World War II and the aftermath of D-Day realizes that the boccage was difficult country to fight in, but I think it's hard to imagine exactly how hard it was unless you walk through it. Even the photos of long mounds of dirt with trees tangled in them don't really do the place justice. It's easy to get lost even on the roads; throw German machine guns (arguably the best ground weapon in the war) and mortars in there, and even an army that knew the ground it was fighting on would have trouble.

Americans would take one small Norman field, only to come under fire from the next and then the next. Rather than the rapid movement Bradley (and everyone else) had envisioned, the Germans threatened to tie them down in Normandy for months.

It didn't work out that way, mostly because of Cobra - but that's another story. (And another documentary - this one will end with the capture of St. Lo.)

Too timid to fight against the odds

Mentioning Balkoski's book, Beyond the Beachhead, reminds me of another great story he tells, that of one of the German commanders' assessment on St. Lo - a grueling battle that the 29th finally won after days of bloody and confused fighting.

According to the German, the 29th Division won because its soldiers weren't brave enough to fight unless they held a serious advantage in men and material.*

Guess you can say that when you get your butt kicked. "Neh, neh, now try and fight me with one hand tied behind your back . . ." Kind of makes you wonder how he would have fought the battle from the other side.

The Germans were great soldiers, and always did extremely well on the defensive. But obviously they were very sore losers.

* For once I'm not exaggerating - see page 217
Balkoski, Cota, and D-Day

I was recently filmed for an upcoming History Channel special on D-Day. (Details when we get closer.) Mostly I was there to talk about Omar Bradley because, well, I wrote a biography - the biography - of the important but largely neglected WWII general. But we ended up talking about a lot of things, most of which will probably never get into the show.

One of my great pleasures - besides visiting Portland, Maine - was reacquainting myself with some of the books about D-Day that I haven't read or thought about in quite some time.

One of my favorites is Beyond the Beachhead, by Joseph Balkoski. The book focuses on the 29th Infantry and its experiences in Normandy. It's a wonderfully written, extremely well researched account of the division's combat experiences. My version - an ebook for Android - was published by Stackpole in 2005. His terse but descriptive account of General Norman Cota on the beach has to rank as one of the more illuminating accounts of heroism in the war.

Cota was the assistant commander of the division. He was also, as they used to put it, a real piece of work. My favorite story has to do with him coming upon a small group of soldiers contemplating how they were going to get past a German position in a tree.

"Watch and learn,"* Cota said, and he ran to the building, threw in a couple of hand grenades and then went in with guns blazing. My kind of general.

* Not a direct quote. But close in spirit, if nothing else.

Moving at Mach 6

Bye-bye Blackbird


After years of silence on the subject, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has revealed exclusively to AW&ST details of long-running plans for what it describes as an affordable hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike platform that could enter development in demonstrator form as soon as 2018. Dubbed the SR-72, the twin-engine aircraft is designed for a Mach 6 cruise, around twice the speed of its forebear, and will have the optional capability to strike targets.

Story in Aviation Week.
 (The SR-71, long-since retired, was called the Blackbird.)
Shocking news - America spies!

I have to say that I've been both baffled and amused by the "revelations" regarding NSA spying. What exactly did people think spy agencies did, anyway?

The latest "sandal" - the "revelation" that the U.S. spied on our "allies" is pretty precious. I'm sure the Germans, et al, are shocked, simply shocked, to find that out. though I can't imagine Merkel has much that's interesting to listen to.

Anyone reading the Deep Black series - which is a few years old now - would have been prepared. But it's all fiction, right?

But here's a question no one seems to be asked: given the NSA's obvious skill with computers, why weren't they tasked with designing the Obamacare website?

American Sniper returns to NYT best-seller list


One of the great things about working on the Memorial edition of American Sniper was getting to talk to a wide range of people who were friends of Chris. It was amazing to me how many people had so many good things to say about him. In fact, if I hadn't known him myself, I wouldn't have believed half. But I think if anything, he was probably twice as nice and twice as generous as people even remember.

It was an honor helping to get these memories into print. I, and I'm sure everyone involved, are grateful for the support readers have shown, not just to Chris and his memory, but to all veterans.

The Memorial edition of American Sniper appears at 17 on the NY Times best-seller list next week. Given that the book has now been out for nearly two years, it's an incredible achievement, due solely to Chris and his many, many supporters, readers and friends.

Moving up

Number 8 on the list . . .

. . . in D.C. at least.

Thank you.

One way to get Cubans . . .

Cigars from the birds

Now this is what I call art.
Now available

The Memorial edition of American Sniper, which includes memories of Chris from a wise array of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.

For some more about it and links to purchase, check my website here or here.
A heartwarming story . . .

. . .  and a heartwarming book by a friend of mine - if you watch the video closely, you'll see he plays keyboards as well as types on them.

Larry Bond on Tom Clancy

From USNI News - this is Larry speaking:

The most correct thing you can say about the relationship between Hunt for Red October and “Harpoon” is that “Harpoon” was one of the many data sources that Clancy used when he was writing the book.
One way to tell “Harpoon” was one of [Clancy’s] sources is in the knife fight at the very end of the book where the Alfa-class is dogfighting with Red October. The Alfa fired a “Type-F” torpedo, which is what I called the Russian wire-guided torpedo in my [“Harpoon”] rules. When I wrote the first draft there was almost nothing in the unclassified realm regarding torpedo designations for the Russians. In fact I didn’t want to use the classified stuff—that was amazingly complicated.
I came up with Type A through Type F. When you see a bad guy fire a Type F torpedo [in the book]—that’s Tom using “Harpoon.”


(USNI = U.S. Naval Institute)
Why I always go for the Big Mac . . .


For the research, nuggets were preserved, dissected and stained before they were examined under a microscope.
Nugget number one was about 50 percent muscle tissue such as from the breast or thigh, which is what most people think of when they think of chicken meat. The rest of it was made from fat, blood vessels and nerves, specifically the cells that line the skin and internal organs of the chicken.
Nugget number two was 40 percent muscle. The rest was fat, cartilage and bone.


"More than anything . . ."

". . . I'm a technology freak."

- Tom Clancy

Early interview in Publishers Weekly.

Some good pieces on Clancy and his impact here:


And here:


I think some of the comments by readers and fans are especially touching.

Tom Clancy played an important role in my early career, both directly and indirectly. It’s pretty much an open secret that I worked on a few projects for him. More importantly for me personally, it was through this association that I ended up making a lot of good friends, some of whom I'm still close with today. My early association led directly to Dreamland and other series that followed.

I would add one thing to what’s been written: Clancy made reading and patriotism cool again. That’s something I don’t think you can underestimate.

Tom Clancy, 1947-2013

Tom Clancy, author of ‘Hunt for Red October’ and ‘Patriot Games,’ dead at 66 


A-10 cuts update

Frustrated that the Air Force hasn't explained why it wants to cut the A-10 from its fleet, one of New Hampshire's senators has placed a "hold" on the nomination of the Air Force's civilian head. In Senate decorum, this means that the nomination won't proceed (usually) until the Senator removes the hold.

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., has placed a hold on the White House’s nominee for Air Force secretary, blocking the confirmation process of Deborah Lee James until questions are answered regarding potential cuts to the A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft, according to an Ayotte aide.
“Yes, she has placed a hold until she gets answers on the A-10 issue,” the aide told Defense News Wednesday evening. “She (as ranking member of the readiness subcommittee) views this as a readiness issue. Until we have a replacement for the A-10, why would the [Air Force] try to eliminate it? She isn’t necessarily saying we must retain the A-10, but wants to ensure there isn’t a capability gap that could result in lost American lives.”

My new assistant

She's not much on dictation, but no deer have come into the office while she's been on the job.
The Iranian killer in Syria

From the New Yorker:

[Qassem] Suleimani took command of the Quds Force fifteen years ago, and in that time he has sought to reshape the Middle East in Iran’s favor, working as a power broker and as a military force: assassinating rivals, arming allies, and, for most of a decade, directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has sanctioned Suleimani for his role in supporting the Assad regime, and for abetting terrorism. And yet he has remained mostly invisible to the outside world, even as he runs agents and directs operations. “Suleimani is the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today,” John Maguire, a former C.I.A. officer in Iraq, told me, “and no one’s ever heard of him.”


Few Americans realize the extent to which Iran caused destruction, death and chaos in Iraq, nor its continued drive for influence in that country. Quds Force and Hezbollah (and their antecedents) have been critical instruments for some four decades, and have had far greater impact than nuclear weapons ever will.

Memorial edition

Coming in October

Thanks, everyone, for your help. Details forthcoming.
Insecurity . . .


(Reuters) - Federal prosecutors have documented at least 350 instances of faulty background investigations done by private contractors and special agents for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in recent years, illustrating what some lawmakers call systemic weaknesses in the granting of federal security clearances.

Never could have guessed. Full story from Reuters here.

Meanwhile, in Syria

Asad wanted to use gas . . .

. . . says key general.


Brigadier-General Zaher al-Sakat, a former chemical weapons chief in President Bashar al-Assad's own army . . .
. . . says he was ordered three times to use chemical weapons against his own people, but could not go through with it and replaced chemical canisters with ones containing harmless bleach.
He also insists that all such orders had to come from the top – President Assad himself – despite insistent denials by the regime that it has never used chemical weapons.

Story in UK Telegraph.
Can you live with the bomb?


SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean scientists are able to build crucial equipment for uranium-based nuclear bombs on their own, cutting the need for imports that had been one of the few ways outsiders could monitor the country's secretive atomic work, according to evidence gathered by two American experts.
The experts say material published in North Korean scientific publications and news media shows that Pyongyang is mastering domestic production of essential components for the gas centrifuges needed to make such bombs. The development further complicates long-stalled efforts to stop a nuclear bomb program that Pyongyang has vowed to expand, despite international condemnation


The remarkable part of the story is not North Korea's continued development of nuclear weapons, but the restraint thus far by South Korea and Japan, which could quite easily develop their own devices. The logic of a first-strike blow against the North Korean nuclear armory - which would be much easier with nuclear-tipped penetrating weapons - is overwhelming. Even if one thought that retaliation by China was inevitable, a first-strike against North Korea would probably result in less overall damage (on both sides) than waiting for an attack and then retaliating.

Meanwhile, as the export of North Korean military technology continues, the goal of nonproliferation becomes more and more difficult. Iran will not be the last country to join the nuclear club.

Chinese UAVs


BEIJING — For almost two years, hackers based in Shanghai went after one foreign defense contractor after another, at least 20 in all. Their target, according to an American cybersecurity company that monitored the attacks, was the technology behind the United States’ clear lead in military drones.

Full story.

The piece is more than a little breathless, and misinformed (or maybe purposely under-informed) about U.S. capabilities, but must reading anyway.

The next air war

It's the mindset . . .

. . . not the plane.


“The fifth generation pilots are going to have to be trained that firing first is not their core con-ops.  Giving validated targets to other shooters is the ‘to be’ condition,” Wynne said. “This is reversing decades of training and experience where the instinct is to fire first and ask questions later.
“With fifth-gen aircraft you are setting up the air space for air dominance, and weapons are delivered from assets throughout the managed airspace.  Without the fifth generation aircraft you have to fight your way in and expend significant effort just trying to survive.  With the fifth generation aircraft you are setting up the grid to shape the offensive and defensive force to achieve the results which you seek.”
Full article.

Fifth generation = F-22 and F-35. The article is an excellent summary, though since it's by necessity it skims the surface and doesn't mention other technologies that are changing the entire shape and demands of the battlefield. (Think UAVs for starters.)

(Thanks DR, for the link.)

Now available for Nook

Ugly hurts . . .

. . . . the enemy, that is.

Book 3 of the Hogs series is now available for the Nook. Preview and download here.
An adjunct's life and death

Ever wonder where the tens of thousands of dollars students spend each year on college tuition goes? Evidently not to teachers:

As amazing as it sounds, Margaret Mary, a 25-year professor, was not making ends meet. Even during the best of times, when she was teaching three classes a semester and two during the summer, she was not even clearing $25,000 a year, and she received absolutely no health care benefits. Compare this with the salary of Duquesne's president, who makes more than $700,000 with full benefits.

There's more to the story.
Franzen goes off

Jonathan Franzen, from a long but tart rant:

In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion. The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world. But what happens to the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement? What happens to the people who want to communicate in depth, individual to individual, in the quiet and permanence of the printed word, and who were shaped by their love of writers who wrote when publication still assured some kind of quality control and literary reputations were more than a matter of self-promotional decibel levels? 

The rest of the article. (Starts slow, and probably a little esoteric for most, but gathers steam.)

For a limited time

Fires of War is available free for the Kindle via Amazon's UK site.

Fires is the third book in the First Team series, which features Bob "Ferg" Ferguson as a free-wheeling, smooth-talking CIA officer who works with a group of special operators and is backed up by a Special Forces unit.

You can download the book here. The free offer expires Monday.

(I know it's book three, but you can certainly read them in whatever order you want.)
Hog haircut

What an A-10 looks like up close and personal . . .
Coming soon . . .

. . . to a Nook near you: We're putting the finishing touches on the Nook version of Book 3 in the Hogs series; it should be available on the Barnes & Noble site soon.
Meanwhile, in Iran . . .

Iranian President Hassan Rohani said Tuesday that Iran will not forgo any part of its nuclear program, Iranian news agency Mehr reported. The president also said his country would not relinquish its right to nuclear technology, which he called "complete."
Prior to Rohani's remarks, Western commentators had been optimistic that Iran was undergoing a policy change with regard to its contested nuclear program. Iran recently announced its Foreign Ministry would take over nuclear talks with world powers, removing conservative hardliners from the negotiations.

The likely legacy of the authorization debate

Ah, you might say, but if Congress actually votes the Syria authorization down, then future presidents will feel constrained by the threat of a similar congressional veto whether they want to emulate Obama or not. Except that it’s actually more likely that future presidents will look at a congressional rejection in the case of Syria and see a case for going to Congress even lessfrequently than recent chief executives have done. The lesson will be clear enough: Presidents who ignore Congress’s Article I powers (Clinton in Kosovo, Obama in Libya) get away with it, while presidents who respect those powers set themselves up for a humiliation. 

Douthat blog.

Read the entire entry for the (highly unlikely) impeachment scenario.

One argument Douthat doesn't make, but fits in with his logic (and would have made much more sense, to the extent that sense is to be found in the situation): The authorization for force should have been sought BEFORE the use of chemical weapons. Then it might actually have had a deterrent value, which frankly is more than half its worth.