BookSpin gave us a very generous mention; details here.
Merry Christmas

. . .  and best wishes for a great New Year.

(This image of the tree n Rockefeller Center by was better than mine, so I "borrowed" it; check out their site here.)

Depends on the book, no?

People who read before bed using an iPad or similar "e-reader" device felt less sleepy and took longer to fall asleep than when they read a regular printed book, researchers found.
The morning after reading an e-book, people found it harder to wake up and become fully alert than after reading a regular book -- even though they got the same amount of sleep.

I'd say the writing's more important than the LEDs, but then I'm prejudiced.

Asymmetric warfare

Now that the U.S. government has confirmed what everyone already knows - namely, that North Korea was involved in the attack on Sony - the question is what to do about it. From Bloomberg News:
“They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose,” Obama said at his year-end White House news conference on Friday.

That's exactly wrong. The response should be disproportionate, and should not involve the internet.

Why fight in a forum where the forces are relatively closely matched? If anything, the U.S. is at a disadvantage on the internet, as is any developed country: the more you have there, the more you suffer.

Take out North Korea's electric grid. Bomb their computer facilities. Better yet, destroy the base where they test launch ballistic missiles, which sooner or later will threaten the U.S. We should use our advantages to their fullest. Or as the Rogue Warrior would put it: Never fight fair.

Unless the retaliation is massive, there is simply no incentive for North Korea to do anything but lie and laugh.

North Korea isn't the first, and won't be the last. There will be similar attacks in the future unless dramatic action is taken.

On Clint Eastwood

From the New Yorker review of American Sniper:

Eastwood’s command of this material makes most directors look like beginners. As Kyle and his men ride through rubble-strewn Iraqi cities, smash down doors, and race up and down stairways, the camera records what it needs to fully dramatize a given event, and nothing more. There’s no waste, never a moment’s loss of concentration, definition, or speed. The general atmosphere of the cities, and the scattered life of the streets, gets packed into the action. The movie, of course, makes us uneasy, and it is meant to. 

Review. (It's the second review in the column.)
About the premiere

I attended the premiere of the film version of American Sniper Monday night in New York and had a great time.

It was actually the second time I've seen the movie; the studio very kindly previewed it for me several weeks back. I knew that Bradley Cooper had done a phenomenal job portraying Chris, but it wasn't until I met him in person at a party last night that I truly appreciated the amount of work that went into his portrayal.

Hell of an artist; Chris would have been very proud.

Of course, Sienna Miller stole every scene she was in. I'd love to see these two actors pair up in again.

There are no words . . .

. . . for this sort of evil:
PESHAWAR - The death toll of the deadly terrorists attack on students of Army Public School at Warsak Road here on Tuesday raised to 126 and 124 others sustained injuries.
The provincial government has announced a three-day official mourning to express sympathies with the members of the victims’ families.     According to spokesman of Peshawar Police, 126 people most of whom are students were martyred and 124 others were injured in the firing and suicide blast assault on Army Public School. SSP Operation Najeebur Rehman told APP that a function was underway in the school when a suicide bomber resorted to indiscriminate firing and later blew himself up.

Story (Pakistani news site).
Speaking of American Sniper

Thank you.

Even in Korean . . .

Sniper rocks.
Santa cops out . . .

Movin' up

A belated thank you and plug to Legion, the American Legion magazine, which kindly asked me to say a few words on Omar Bradley's behalf for their November issue.

General Bradley was rated number 24 in a recent survey of favorite veterans - a sign that he may finally be stepping out of the shadows to assume his rightful place in history. Still, Bradley's accomplishments and contributions to our country, both during and after WWII, deserve to be far better known.

You can check the Legion and its publications out at their web site:

Just in time . . .

. . . for a merry f''in' Christmas and a Roguish New Year.

Curse of the Infidel, now in paperback.

Of Phantoms and civil wars

There was a brief news flurry last week when the U.S. announced that Iranian aircraft – F4 Phantoms, as it happens – had bombed ISIS positions in Iraq.

The attack has far more significance than proof that a fifty-some year old airframe can still strut its stuff.*

No Sunni-dominated Middle Eastern country can fail to have taken note that Iran is projecting power beyond its borders. And while the F-4s would not have stood a chance against more modern aircraft, the simple fact that they were used at all underlines the threat Iran poses to countries like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Whether Iran proceeds with its nuclear bomb or not – and certainly if it does – the Sunni nations will seek to counterbalance its military. They don’t want parity; they want an overwhelming margin. And Iran will respond in kind.

Meanwhile in Iraq, many Sunni Iraqis interpret the Iranian attacks as more proof that the Iraqi government, despite its recent shakeup, is little more than a puppet of Iran. They don’t necessarily support ISIS, but they could support a break-away government that controlled the west, even one that was fairly repressive – ISIS Light. Iraq’s breakup seems more likely by the day, even if ISIS is defeated.

What does this mean for America and the rest of the West? Defeating ISIS is not going to make the situation any easier to deal with. The Sunni-Shia civil wars have the potential not only to simmer for a generation, but to turn into a nuclear confrontation within a decade.

 * - (You do have to love the Phantom, though. Read Drone Strike for another fictional take on 'the Phantom flies again' meme.)

The history of flight . . .

. . . seen by animators, and told through animations of different patent entries.

It's interesting how many attempts at flapping wings were patented, but I think my favorite are the car-planes.

Dangerous intelligence

From the BBC:

Prof Stephen Hawking, one of Britain's pre-eminent scientists, has said that efforts to create thinking machines pose a threat to our very existence.
He told the BBC:"The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."

Hawking is just the latest thinker to give this warning, which is articulated in great detail by Nick Bostrom in the book Superintellgence (which I happen to be reading; highly recommended).

Until recently, the dangers of AI have been relegated to science fiction -- Hal in 2001 is still the prime example. Now we see them in thrillers (I've done it in Dreamland: Collateral Damage, for example); next it will be real life - or maybe, if some of these predictions are correct, we won't see it at all.

PD James, 1920-2014

One of my favorite crime writers passed away over the holiday. From Ruth Rendell's tribute:
If one of her books had police work in it, the police work would be true, it would be very real. Her detective Dalgliesh – named him after a female teacher at her school, she just liked the name – is the most intelligent police officer in fiction that I’ve ever come across. He’s sensitive, intelligent, rather awe-inspiring and slightly frightening, but he is a real person, you can get really involved in him.

Oil pressure

A barrel of Texas Intermediate crude fell as low as $67.82 in early trading and was at $67.98 Friday afternoon Eastern Time -- a whopping 7.8% drop.

The lower price for oil helps Americans, obviously -- gasoline gets cheaper, and those of us in the northeast and elsewhere who use oil to heat our houses can save a bit. But the lower the price goes, the more pressure there is on Iran's economy, which is already battered by sanctions. It's no coincidence that OPEC - whose Muslim members are mostly Sunni and feel threatened by Iran's Shia government - is doing everything it can to keep the prices low. (That's only one reason oil prices have plummeted, but it is an important one.)

Will it be enough to force a nuclear deal?

Probably not. For the Iranians, arming themselves with nukes has a logic beyond the economy. If the West wants to keep Iran from building a weapon, ultimately it will have to damage the weapons development infrastructure. The problem is that even the best attack will only delay development, not stop it.

What Thanksgiving is like . . .

. . . for us:
Italian-Americans are a gluttonous tribe, and when we look at the calendar, we don’t see big moments and small ones, peaks and valleys. We see occasions to eat a lot and occasions to eat even more than that.

Except that he forgot the gelato making session, the cigars, and the walk around the block just before the cold cuts.

Break It Down

These guys are so good they make me sound intelligent:

We talked about American Sniper, Code Name Johnny Walker, and why there won't be great rock bands in ten years.

Check out their show here.
Thanks, Audible . . .

(From this week's NYT book section.)

Whether you listen to it or read it, it's still a great book.
Adventures in BS

Russia tries to pretend the Ukaranians shot down MH17:

The amazing thing is that some news media will report it straight. Pulll - eeze.

On the other hand, they are getting better at Photoshop.

Chris Kyle Frog Foundation announced

Taya says it best:

Hello friends,
 I can’t think of a better day than Veterans Day to be able to make this announcement!
 In the past year and 9 months since Chris was taken from us, I have worked with a single goal in mind: to keep his legacy of service to God, family and country alive, I am passionate about serving the families who serve our country so heroically. Today, I am humbled, honored, and thrilled to announce the launch of The Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to serving military and first responder families. Our goal is to provide experiences helping families reconnect after deployments, military involvement, and time spent serving those in crisis here at home. We will help couples create the new common ground they need to build a future together after the trauma of time apart. Our vision is to create a country of connected and thriving service members and first responder families.
 My vision for CKF foundation grew out of the common experiences all military and first responder families go through. Chris and I loved each other with all our hearts, and his deployments put a terrible strain on our marriage. Each time he came home, we each had to adjust to knowing another layer of our spouse. We had to adjust to the roles the other had taken on in our time apart and figure out how to manage them back into a working family structure until the next deployment. It was hard. 
When Chris was home from deployments, he often had to go on training trips. On one rare occasion he had a couple of days off from work during a training trip. My mom offered to buy me a plane ticket to go spend two days with him while she watched our kids. It was something we couldn’t afford at the time, and it was such a blessing. Escaping the stresses of everyday life — even for just a few days — let us reconnect and feel everything we loved about each other. It was stronger than anything that could ever tear us apart. It gave us new energy in our relationship, and strength to handle the challenges ahead. 
Chris and I both believed in paying it forward, and we wanted to give this same opportunity to the other families in our community — first responder and military families. They serve bravely, but are struggling on the home front.
We know there is a real need that isn’t being met. Right now, these American families are paying a huge price. Nearly three in four married veterans are likely to have had family problems after a deployment, and half say deployments have had a negative effect on their marriage. Divorce rates of over 80% in both groups effect not just the couple but the children too. These families don’t need handouts; they need hand-ups — just an opportunity to find their feet, to reconnect with those roots of committed love and support that gave them the strength to serve so proudly in the first place. We want to treat them to experiences that will make finding the way home a little bit easier and help to build the resilience needed to continue in service to this country.  
In the coming weeks, we’ll be launching our website and sharing more details about opportunities to support the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation. We’ve filed for 501c3 status, and will be announcing a series of events around the country to spread the word about our mission. With your help, the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation will be a one-of-akind force for good, celebrating core values of loyalty, empowerment, integrity and excellence, and honoring God and family for our country. We know we can make a real difference in the lives of so many families. 
Chris and I together, believed in this so strongly.  There aren’t words enough to say what it means to me to have the opportunity to bring our vision to life. His spirit, our marriage, and the challenges and triumphs of our friends are all guiding us.  
We’ve been blessed by the support of so many.  Thank you, to everyone who has generously blessed our family in your own unique way. Every one of you played a part in this foundation. You all allowed us the time and resources to make this day a reality. I can’t thank you enough and I cannot wait to see what the future holds! 
God Bless,
- Taya 
Russia brings back the Cold War

The European Leadership Network recently reviewed incidents involving Russian military units engaging in aggressive and generally reckless behavior over the past year. The picture is basically that of a bumbling schoolyard idiot cum bully who keeps bumping into people until finally someone beats the sense into him.

From the report:
Since the Russian annexation of Crimea, the intensity and gravity of incidents involving Russian and Western militaries and security agencies has visibly increased . . . almost 40 specific incidents . . . have occurred over the last eight months.

The Russians appear to be going all out to make themselves feel good. But look at some of the incidents closely - a Russian spy plane nearly collides with a passenger jet, a Russian submarine comes close to sinking . . . They're trying to project prowess, but what they're displaying is near criminal ineptness.

The frum and drum will undoubtedly have one beneficial effect: They're making it a lot harder to cut the U.S. military budget.

Star Trek, the next next generation . . .

Tell me the APEC photo isn't a still from the next Star Trek series . . . Putin as Soran?

Telling it like is

Robert Hannigan of GCHQ in FT:

Terrorists have always found ways of hiding their operations. But today mobile technology and smartphones have increased the options available exponentially. Techniques for encrypting messages or making them anonymous which were once the preserve of the most sophisticated criminals or nation states now come as standard. These are supplemented by freely available programs and apps adding extra layers of security, many of them proudly advertising that they are “Snowden approved”. There is no doubt that young foreign fighters have learnt and benefited from the leaks of the past two years.

Standing tall

One World Trade Center opened Monday with the beginning of Condé Nast’s relocation into the tower.

One World Trade Center is open for business. Item:

Take that, Osama Bin Laden!
More than 13 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a resurrected World Trade Center — bigger and better than ever — reopened for business Monday.
“The New York City skyline is whole again,” Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, declared.

Sharp-eyed readers needed

Hog Born, a novella featuring Michael Knowlington, is now available on Kindle here.

It's been proofed - several times! - but I've always found a way to baffle even the sharpest copy editor. So we're asking for some help:

If you find mistakes or typos, please send a note to author(at) - we'll send you a hard copy of Code Name: Johnny Walker (or another book, if you've read that one).


(Unfortunately, due to our arrangements with Amazon, you do have to pay $1.99 for the novella, but the book we'll send you free is worth more than that.)

Meet you in New Mexico

 . . . we decided to hunt down the price of a bottle of liquor in every state so you can know exactly how much more or less that stiff pour is costing you than neighboring imbibers.
I chose Jack Daniels because it is the most American of spirits. I chose a fifth (750 ML) because it is the most common size for a bottle of liquor.
The cheapest I found: You can score a fifth of Jack for $15.99 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


(Naturally my state is one of the most expensive, at least according to the list.)
ISIS cash flow = $1 million a day

That buys a lot of pain. Item:

Islamic State militants are amassing a fortune through their web of criminal activity, including earning roughly $1 million a day from oil smuggling alone, according to a Treasury Department official who on Thursday provided unprecedented details about the illicit financial network.  


A lot of that is flowing through Turkey. A lot.

Terrible news out of Ottawa today. It's a shame that the fine people of Canada have to experience such tragedy.

The future of publishing

While the dispute between Hatchette and appears on the surface a fight between titans, in reality every publisher and author, big and small, has a stake. Frankly, it's hard to be overly optimistic about the effects.

Using Twitter, Michael Tamblyn, the head of Kobo, neatly laid out what's going on and what the future holds. The Twitter feed is here.

Here are the Tweets (glommed from Publisher's Lunch):

1. Indie authors take note: Amazon is, among other things, a machine designed to optimize product prices in order to gain share and sales.

2. AMZN, like every retailer that reaches a certain size, turns to its suppliers to grow profitability by demanding more favourable terms.

3. The Hachette-Amazon fight is an especially public manifestation of that Big Retail process. Nothing new there (Walmart, Target, B&N et al)

4. Some vocal traditionally published authors (but not all) support Hachette and criticize Amazon and…

5. Some vocal independent authors (but not all) support Amazon and criticize Hachette...

6. Defense of Amazon by indie authors makes sense on one level. For them, AMZN is the well-spring, where the self-pub revolution started.

7. But it seems like self-published authors believe they are protected somehow - that what is happening to Hachette won't happen to them.

8. Some indie authors even muse that the best possible strategy is exclusivity with Amazon, leaving readers on other platforms behind.

9. In the long run, I don't think that Amazon makes a big distinction between a publisher and an indy author - they are both suppliers.

10. Hachette and the rest of the big 5 sit at the top of a list of suppliers to be "improved" from Amazon's perspective.

11. Hachette is first because one negotiation with a big publisher makes a lot of bestselling books more profitable. That's efficient.

12. I don't think anyone believes that AMZN will stop with Hachette. With a successful conclusion, all pubs will go through the same thing.

13. They will move down the list. Midsized or smaller publishers come next. (Assuming this all isn't being pursued quietly in parallel.)

14. From Amazon's perspective, how is an independent author any different than a publisher? Still a supplier, to be made more profitable.

15. The indie author's situation is most tenuous of all. If >80% of sales come from AMZN, *no leverage when it's your turn to be "optimized"

16. An indie author, like any publisher, can take her books away if in conflict with AMZN. But it hurts the author *way more than Amazon.

17. A reasonable author response to the AMZN threat wdb: "they won't need to do that to us. Our prices are already where they need to be."

18. (Indy authors on Amazon are penalized if their books are too expensive, so that's largely true.)

19. But that assumes that the AMZN battle is about price. It's not. It's about profit. And _any_ supplier can be made more profitable.

20. If indie authors are 20% of AMZN's total sales, then it's hard to imagine that indie authors aren't on that list to be improved.

21. But if the AMZN battle extends to indie authors, authors will have less leverage. Especially if they are exclusive.

22. The mechanisms for the AMZN squeeze are in place, agreements allow it. Self-pub inclusion in Select, Unlimited, KOLL are early examples.

23. Amazon can and will, as a business, do what it needs to do to _all_ suppliers in time to improve profitability and grow share.

24. Selling other publishers and authors, AMZN can survive without Hachette, but uncomfortably and less profitably.

25. With a diverse base of retailers, Hachette can survive without AMZN, also uncomfortably and less profitably.

26. Both parties having other options is why this dispute wasn't over in a week or a month.

27. The litmus test for an indie author: could your income survive a conflict with Amazon? If not, it's worth thinking about how you could.

28. To paraphrase: "First they came for the big New York publishers, but I wasn't published by a big New York Publisher…"

29. Then they came for the mid-sized publishers, but I wasn't published by a mid-sized publisher...

30. Then they came for the academic presses...

31. Then they came for the literary presses...

32. Then they came for me."
Coming soon . . .

... to a Kindle near you.

Hog Born is a novella - or a very, very long short story - centering on Michael "Skull" Knowlington, the leader of Devil Squadron. a lot of of readers have wondered what he did before the First Gulf War and how he came to command the squadron; Hog Born will give some of those details.

It should be available in a few days.
The case against Amazon

From the New Republic:

In its pursuit of bigness, Amazon has left a trail of destructioncompetitors undercut, suppliers squeezedsome of it necessary, and some of it highly worrisome. And in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette, it has entered a phase of heightened aggression unseen even when it tried to crush Zappos by offering a $5 rebate on all its shoes or when it gave employees phony business cards to avoid paying sales taxes in various states.

Article. Probably the best summary of what's at stake, though its suggestions seem unlikely, at least for now.
Chase bank:
Our fault, no; your fault maybe

JP Morgan Chase got hacked big time recently, though by whom and for what purpose remains a mystery - at least publicly. (One of the many stories here.)

I haven't gotten my official notice about the incursion and the reassurances not to panic yet. No doubt it's in the mail.

What was in the mail was a statement with this notice from Chase:

Effective November 16, 2014, we will be updating your agreement. The updated agreement will explain that if you allow anyone to use your bank card, or if you don't exercise ordinary care (examples of not exercising ordinary care: if you keep your PIN with your card, or select your birthday as your PIN) you will be responsible for all authorized and unauthorized transaction . . . 

Translation - if your account gets accessed by a thief, we'll decide whether you were doing a good job protecting it before we decide whether we're liable or not. We promise we'll be reasonable about deciding whether you were reasonable . . .

Would it be reasonable to suggest it's time to update 40-year-old security methods with more secure cards and ATM machines? Nah . . .

According to that Bloomberg link above, by the way, it was an employee password that let the thiefs in. Hopefully it wasn't his or her birthday.

Incidentally, the Federal Trade Commission says personal liability for ATM theft is limited, as long as you quickly report the theft. Here's the link. The banksters haven't changed all the rules yet.


Been spending some time with these old birds lately. Details to follow . . .
Turkey fights its own people . . .

. . .  rather than doing anything about ISIS:

Turkish authorities moved Wednesday to stop the spread of violent protests across the predominantly Kurdish southeast of the country, fueled by the refusal of the Ankara government to intervene to protect Kurds in neighboring Syria against an Islamic State onslaught.

WSJ story here.

Question: Why even pretend you're part of NATO?

Robot gunboats

This is from the AP, via Fox:

Self-guided unmanned patrol boats that can leave warships they're protecting and swarm and attack potential threats on the water could join the Navy's fleet within a year, defense officials say, adding the new technology could one day help stop attacks like the deadly 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen.

Robot boats will eventually do a lot more than that. But for now, that's still a lot. Story.

Expedia sucks, Part II*

So after a week of attempted emailing and phone calls, I finally get an email answer telling me that the problem can't be solved via email (duh), and gives me a number to call.

Of course, the number is the generic number that I've tried already, only to be either not called back or hung up on.

So I call the number, work through the phone tree, get on hold and after some unknown number of minutes there -- they said it would be three, but it was far longer - someone picks up and hangs up.

So, my next alternative is cancel the reservation. The only reason I haven't is that I think this was a mistake rather than an actual attempt at hijacking my account (and stealing my money). But maybe I shouldn't think that - and clearly I care more about the people who would be affected than Expedia does.

* See this entry for the background.
Privateering computer systems

In the late 16th century, a small group of sea-going warriors known as the Sea Dogs ravaged the Spanish empire, raiding shipping up and down the Atlantic and as far away as the North American west coast. Though they were not officially part of the British navy, in many ways they did far more to damage Britain's enemies. The Sea Dogs were privateers, attacking vulnerable merchant vessels, killing crew and taking booty. Their most famous member was Francis Drake - or I should say Sir Francis Drake, who knighted for exploits that included his stint with the Sea Dogs.

Privateers were pirates in every sense except one - they were granted immunity by their own government. At different times and places - they operated for more than two centuries - they had direct relationships with the government that sponsored them. Drake "graduated" from privateer and became second in command of the fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada.

Hackers are today's privateers. Not all of them - the majority have no government relationship (and would abhor it) and do their thing for personal reasons, be they kicks or money or both. But the group that hit JP Morgan and several other financial situations over the summer are far more organized than most, and would appear to either have connections with a government - Russia, specifically - or at least be protected by them.

The U.S. has its our own state-sponsored; those working for the NSA are only the best known. (An irony for many reasons.) It's unclear whether the government sponsors privateers as well, but failing to prosecute hackers who attack computers overseas is, in effect, the same thing.

It's warfare by a different name, just as it was in the 16th, 17th, and 18th century. It may be low intensity, but it clearly can do as much damage if not more than an attack by bombs.

As governments countered the privateer threat - and launched their own - the strategy eventually became less effective and died out - after two hundred years. Time is compressed these days, but it's likely going to take something on the order of the destruction of the Spanish Armada to make stopping the widespread attacks more of a priority.

Ever wonder . . .

. . . what a missile launch looks like from inside an F-16?

The trailer for American Sniper. The movie releases in select theaters Dec. 25.

Expedia account secure? Not so much

Use Expedia? Think your information’s secure?

So did I. Until this week.

Monday, I got a notice from Expedia thanking me for arranging my itinerary with them.

Which, you know, was cool, except that I hadn’t.

I hopped on my account and discovered that there was a new itinerary – along with two people I’d never heard of before, who were now trusted travelers, or whatever the website calls people who get tickets associated with your account.

Needless to say, I did the normal security things – changed passwords, deleted credit cards, etc. And, of course, I tried contacting Expedia to straighten out the problem.

I’ve emailed them twice, without an answer. I tried calling – they call you back rather than putting you on hold – twice as well. The first time, I never got a call back; maybe the request didn’t properly register or I didn’t follow some protocol. The second time the operator lost my connection and hasn’t called back.

My only recourse at the moment seems to be to cancel the entire reservation. I’m reluctant to do that, as it will undoubtedly screw the people who actually made it – which, if they’re the victims of an innocent screw-up, really sucks for them. But I will do that if I don’t get at least some contact from Expedia in the next twenty-four hours.

Or maybe I'll just print the boarding pass out and use it myself. In the meantime, guess how much I’ll be recommending Expedia to others . . .
Drone Strike reviewed

A very gracious review from

With a well- constructed and researched plot, readers are instantly pulled in the arid deserts and air space over Iran as Turk gets guided to his mission accompanied only by a small, but highly skilled Delta Force Team and a very nervous and sweat-soaked small plane pilot.
One of the things I also like about the Brown and DeFelice writing team is that they do a very effective balancing act in showing respect for the enemy's (in this case Iran) capabilities and shortcomings and as well as developing the enemy side's characters as realistically human similar to how they develop the American ones. This is both a blessing and a curse as there are many strong and likeable secondary characters in DRONE STRIKE, but the body count is very high. 

Read all about it here.
Raptor's first strike . . .

Before and after:

The F-22 is the most advanced operational air combat fighter in the world, but that doesn't mean it can't throw a bomb or two in its spare time. (The ISIS attacks are the first time the Raptor has been used in the attack role, according to DoD.)

The General's new edition

Regnery History has put out a new trade paper edition of Omar Bradley: General at War. The book is being paired up with some other important titles, and we're hoping for wide circulation - hello, Costco!

Thanks, everyone, for your continued interest.

The ISIS Tooth Fairy

Over the weekend, Turkey announced that it had pulled off the special op of the century, retrieving some four dozen hostages from ISIS without paying a ransom or engaging in an outright attack.


One of two things happened:

- either Turkish undercover agents managed to infiltrate ISIS and hoodwinked the captors into letting the hostages go, or

- the Turks did make a deal, just one that may not be technically called a ransom.

Take your pick.

There is one other possibility - and that is some other country (read America) engaged in a rescue mission and made it possible for the hostages to escape; the Turks then took the credit. But in that case, we'll surely hear about it sooner rather than later.

Just an everyday thing . . .

An engine failure is anything but an everyday thing - but you have to admire the absolutely "yeah, we're on it, no problem" tone of the pilot in this emergency announcement after a JetBlue airliner lost its engine. Pros were definitely at the helm.

It was certainly not routine, but definitely routinely handled - no injuries reported.

Next Dreamland . . .

Here's the tentative cover for the book we're working on, due out next year:

More high-tech fun is planned . . .
Turkey's role

One of the more under-reported aspects of the ISIS crisis has been the role of Turkey in facilitating the psychos' success. Not only is Turkey allowing black market sale of oil - a huge benefit to the terrorists, but the group actively recruits in Turkish cities without apparent fear of arrest.

Turkey is a member of NATO. Lying half in Europe and half in Asia, it has striven for acceptance by the West since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. But over the past decade its responses to backward-looking radical movements in the Middle East have greatly complicated not only its position vis a  vis the West but also perceptions of it.

Turkey's way is not necessarily Europe's or even America's; it has its own future to determine. But sleeping with rabid dogs is never a good idea; they tend eventually to bite.

It wasn't a bunch of rocks

Anatomy of a missile strike - from the report on MH 17, downed over Ukraine:

Damage observed on the forward fuselage and cockpit section of the aircraft appears to indicate that there were impacts from a large number of high-energy objects from outside the plane.
The pattern of damage observed in the forward fuselage and cockpit section of the aircraft was not consistent with the damage that would be expected from any known failure mode of the aircraft, its engines or systems.
The fact that there were many pieces of aircraft structure distributed over a large area, indicated that the aircraft broke up in the air.

That's technical speak for "a missile hit the plane," which of course we already knew. Full report (pdf) here.

The machine writes

But can it think? Well, maybe. As if auto-correct weren't bad enough, soon we'll have auto-thought:

From Apple's website announcing Aple iOS 8:

iOS 8 predicts what you’ll likely say next. 
No matter whom you’re saying it to.
Now you can write entire sentences with a few taps. Because as you type, you’ll see choices of words or phrases you’d probably type next, based on your past conversations and writing style. iOS 8 takes into account the casual style you might use in Messages and the more formal language you probably use in Mail. It also adjusts based on the person you’re communicating with, because your choice of words is likely more laid back with your spouse than with your boss. Your conversation data is kept only on your device, so it’s always private.

And after auto-thought, can auto-act be far behind? How long will it be before machines successfully predict who* a person wants to murder, then carry out the killing?

Boom times for sci-fi writers, surely. Though reality appears to be catching up.

* Relaxed standard speaking English used to differentiate from uptight machine language, which would require formal objective case.

France "suspends" Russian amphib


PARIS – President Francois Hollande's office says France is suspending the delivery of a hulking warship to Russia amid security concerns about Moscow's actions in neighboring Ukraine.

But "suspends" is not the same as "cancels." France has already built two of the ships, and there are plans for its Russian "partner" to build others. Good vessels to launch invasions from, especially if you don't happen to live next door.

The class namesake, at its launch:

War with Russia

Western media has finally caught up to the fact of the slow-motion Russian invasion and partitiion of Ukraine.

The real question is, what's next?

As Anne Applebaum puts it in an article entitle "War in Europe - Putin has invaded Ukraine. Is it hysterical to prepare for total war with Russia? Or is it naive not to?" at

In the past few days, Russian troops bearing the flag of a previously unknown country, Novorossiya, have marched across the border of southeastern Ukraine. The Russian Academy of Sciences recently announced it will publish a history of Novorossiya this autumn, presumably tracing its origins back to Catherine the Great. Various maps of Novorossiya are said to be circulating in Moscow. Some include Kharkov and Dnipropetrovsk, cities that are still hundreds of miles away from the fighting. Some place Novorossiya along the coast, so that it connects Russia to Crimea and eventually to Transnistria, the Russian-occupied province of Moldova. Even if it starts out as an unrecognized rump state—Abkhazia and South Ossetia, “states” that Russia carved out of Georgia, are the models here—Novorossiya can grow larger over time.


So should Europe (and the U.S.) prepare for war with Russia?


We are already there in an economic sense. Putin - and perhaps Russia - will only grow more desperate as the reality of that sinks in.

I'm not advocating war, but I do believe it may be forced upon us.

The invasion continues

From the NY Times:

NOVOAZOVSK, Ukraine — Tanks, artillery and infantry have crossed from Russia into an unbreached part of eastern Ukraine in recent days, attacking Ukrainian forces and causing panic and wholesale retreat not only in this small border town but a wide swath of territory, in what Ukrainian and Western military officials described on Wednesday as a stealth invasion.


I hate to make the parallel, but Putin's denials are right out of the 1930s.
Russia bares its teeth . . .

From USA Today:

NATO officials said on Friday that Moscow has sent Russian-manned artillery units into Ukraine in recent days and was using them to shell Ukrainian forces as part of a "major escalation" of Russian involvement in the disputed region.


Can we stop pretending now?

Free Hogs story on Kindle

This special Hogs Birthday short story is free for the next five days. You can download it here.

'A stain on the human race'

ISIS summed up:

ROCHESTER, NH —The grieving parents of journalist James Wright Foley are haunted by their son’s gruesome death at the hand of an Islamic State terrorist.
“He met the most horrific end and it haunts me how much pain he must have been in and how cruel this method of execution is,” said his brokenhearted dad, John, who started sobbing as he spoke outside their home with his wife, Diane, and their son Michael.
“They are a stain on the human race,” he said. “It’s just awful. There simply isn’t enough being done. If more was done, then Jim would be here right now.”

NY Post story. (One of many.)
Everything that's wrong with branding . . .

. . . or maybe pop culture, in one easy-to-loathe moment.

From the NY Times:
Unsure of how best to freshen the musty franchise, the studio commissioned market research, which to its delight found that Lassie retained an 83 percent “brand awareness” among Americans; words like “loyal,” “hero” and “heartwarming” were most often associated with the character.
“We realized that Lassie has an authenticity that makes her a merchandising holy grail,” Mr. Francis said.


(Nice pun in the headline: Lassie as Salesdog: One More Trip to the Well.)
ISIS finances

For those looking for more information about ISIS, Patrick B. Johnston and Benjamin Bahney have published a summary of their findings on the group's finances, estimating that they are currently taking in some $1 million a day.

From the piece, in the NY Times:

...[The group's] money came mostly from protection rackets that extorted the commercial, reconstruction, and oil sectors of northern Iraq’s economy. The group also made considerable money through war itself, plundering millions of dollars from local Christians and Shiites, whom ISIS views as apostates.
We believe that ISIS will remain financially solvent for the foreseeable future. A conservative calculation suggests that ISIS may generate a surplus of $100 million to $200 million this year that it could reinvest in state-building.

The View series, mentioned below, shows ISIS the way it wants to be portrayed - which is scary enough. Imagine what it looks like to the people on the ground when the cameras are gone.

Sniper will be a Xmas movie

From Hollywood Reporter:
Nabbing a high-profile release date during the heart of awards season, director Clint Eastwood'sAmerican Sniper will begin rolling out in select theaters on Christmas Day before expanding nationwide Jan. 16.

Inside ISIS

Vice is running a series of reports from inside ISIS, the so-called Caliphate that has taken over eastern Syria and parts of western Iraq.

Below was the first installment; others are available at their web site here.

The "speed" at which ISIS took over western Iraq is simply a function of the power vacuum there, and the utter disarray and incompetence of the Iran-backed government, which is responsible for much of country's chaos and despair.

This is a highly sanitized version of what a regular person experiences; there are plenty of outright lies (treatment of the Christians) as well as omissions. Still, though the reporting was done under heavy supervision/censorship, the reporting crew displayed singular courage in putting this together.

Besides the gruesome sights, the most chilling thing are the kids. 
Hunger games . . .

. . . well, not that dire, but talk about cutting off your nose to spite your enemy's face.


MOSCOW — Russia announced on Thursday that it was banning the import of a wide range of food and agricultural products from Europe and the United States, among others, responding to Western-imposed sanctions and raising the level of confrontation between the West and Moscow over the future of Ukraine.
Dmitri A. Medvedev, the prime minister, announced that Russia would ban all beef, pork, fruit, vegetables and dairy products from the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia and Norway for one year.

NY Times story.

An Auto story . . .

Ever wonder what the life of a car means to the people who own it, and vice versa?

Earl Swift explores the intersections in Auto Biography, which focuses on a '57 Chevy wagon and the man who restores it. The book is like a Sunday ride in a hilly country, exploring the different nooks and crannies of Americana. Much to his credit, he doesn't prettify it.

Great summer read.

The future of footnotes . . .

. . . is on the web.

Craig Shirley is accusing Rick Perlstein of plagiarizing his work in The Invisible Bridge - a charge that might be taken more seriously if politics weren't involved and Shirley weren't asking for $25 million in supposed damages. Oh, and if Perlstein hadn't cited Shirley some 125 times.

Putting aside the charges, it's interesting that Perlstein put the footnotes for the book on-line. One of the reasons he said he did this was to keep the length of the book down, a factor I can tell you is actually much more important than most non-authors know. But more interesting is the ability to link those notes to the original sources in many cases, allowing the reader (and other researchers) to explore the sources on their own. It also allows for up-dating and upgrading the notes as time goes on.

The arrangement has been criticized on the grounds that the cites can be put in retroactively; obviously the people saying that are far more interested in playing "gotcha" than actually using the notes in a meaningful way.

I'd love the ability to use inter-active notes with some of my nonfiction books, most notably Rangers at Dieppe and Omar Bradley, General at War. Readers have supplied me with lots of information since the publication of both. While they haven't changed the specific findings in either case, they have added interesting tidbits and shaded a few interpretations. While I talk about them here and on the website when I can, this is no where near as convenient for readers as a dedicated site with links would be.

Of course, the question then would be who maintains it. Even the least expensive hosting arrangements would add expense that most writers couldn't bear over the long haul.

Poirot again?

Sophie Hannah has written a new Poirot novel, bringing one of Agatha Christie's favorite characters back to life.

As a Poirot fan, I'm looking forward to it. But the author has to be pretty brave - some will no doubt declare it sacrilegious, no matter how brilliant the effort.

Advance word has been very good. We'll see in September when the book comes out. (William Morrow is the publisher.) Now if they could just get David Suchet to reprise his role in a new TV series based on the book . . .