Why Putin Has His Way with Europe

davidworkman:

Continuing the Russia-Ukraine theme, the points here cannot be overlooked. Russia has always been simply a renaming and rebranding of the old Soviet Union. Looking at world events through that lens makes everything a whole lot clearer.

Originally posted on Bayard & Holmes:

By Jay Holmes

This past February, Russian Dictator Vladimir Putin ordered his intelligence and military services to invade Crimea in the Eastern Ukraine. Western governments loudly condemned Russia’s aggression, but practical responses have been limited to minor economic sanctions and visa restrictions against major Russian supporters of Putin.

In predictable fashion, Putin responded with symbolic bans on U.S. involvement in Russian energy development. Neither Western responses nor Putin’s counter-measures count for much in the short term. However, in the long term, Russia wants the oil and gas fracking technology that U.S. companies dominate. To get that, Putin is betting that the West will forget about Russian aggression in Ukraine as quickly as it forgot about the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008.

Poster on Rustaveli Avenue, Tblisi, Georgia, 2008 Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Poster on Rustaveli Avenue, Tblisi, Georgia, 2008
Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Thus far, there are striking similarities between the Georgian and Ukrainian invasions.

In 2008, Georgia, like the…

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The Difference between Malaysian Airlines 17 and Iranian Air 655

Because this is mostly a blog about writing and authors and all things literary, I normally shy away from controversial topics, such as current events. The purpose here is to encourage writers and tout their wares, not make political statements.

However, because my book (and soon to be books, plural) mostly center around current events in the world of espionage and politics with a particular slant toward American patriotism and our ongoing tension with Russia, I think it’s appropriate to address a topic that is in the news related to all those things.

We all know about the tragic downing last week of Malaysian Airline 17 that killed almost 300 innocent passengers, including at least one American. Many of the victims were women and children. None of them deserved to be shot down by either the Russians or the Ukrainian resistance forces. (The jury is still out on who fired the rocket, although the evidence is leaning toward either the Russians outright or a Russian force disguised as Ukrainians, but it’s too soon to know for sure.)

Some in the apologize-for-their-own-country American media have already begun to compare this event with the accidental downing of Iranian Air flight 655 by the USS Vincennes back on July 3, 1988. While both incidents cost hundreds of innocent lives, it’s important to draw a distinction between the two. They are not the same.

One major difference is the intent. By all accounts (except for those of annoying conspiracy theorists), the US Navy never intended to shoot down a civilian jetliner. Instead, they mistook it for an Iranian F-14 fighter jet, a mistake that was apparently fairly easy to make back in the 1980’s, when radar technology wasn’t as good as it is now. Even the advanced radar system aboard the Aegis class cruiser, though cutting edge for its time and still better than some others today, was inadequate to identify the airplane accurately.

There was also the matter of the airliner’s pilots not responding when the ship tried to hail them on the radio in an attempt to positively identify what the radar had labeled as a potential threat. This is standard military procedure, both during peace and wartime. Know whom you’re shooting before you pull the trigger.

The operators on board the Vincennes also incorrectly identified IA655’s transponder code as Mode II, which is a military frequency, instead of the civilian Mode III, and fired on a plane that was no threat to them, an egregious mistake that cost hundreds of human lives.

The 1988 downing of IA655 was clearly an accident by a US Navy that was not actively engaged in hostilities with Iran or any other power in the region at the time. The ship was simply there as part of a carrier group patrolling peacefully in the Strait of Hormuz.

Did the US Navy screw up? No doubt. And it has admitted so, to the tune of almost $62 million paid out to the families of the victims.

Russian SA-11 Surface-to-Air Missile

In the case of MA17, however, there is no evidence so far that the troops on the ground, whoever they were, attempted to ascertain the identity of their target before firing. Once investigators analyze the voice data recorders (a.k.a. black boxes), they may uncover some sort of pre-shot communication between the airplane and the ground, but as of today nobody has said anything publicly about it.

As of this writing, nobody has alluded to the downing of MA17 as anything but a deliberate and unprovoked shooting down of a civilian airliner. Neither Russia nor Ukraine is claiming responsibility for the incident, as they gauge the severity of the international community’s response to see what they can get away with next. So far it’s been less than impressive.

Iranian Airlines 655 was accidentally shot down by an officially recognized navy that realized its mistake and admitted it.

Malaysian Airlines 17 was deliberately shot down by either the Russians or Ukrainians, neither of whom has the courage to stand up and take the blame.

There is a stark difference between the two.

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What Spooks Really Do

I write spy thrillers. At least one so far. I’m working on the sequel. When people ask me to describe my main character, Gordon McAllister, I’m sort of at a loss for words. He’s an assassin, but he’s also an executive recruiter, a perfect cover that allows him to travel without drawing attention to his real mission. He’s not James Bond, not Jack Bauer, not Jason Bourne (what is it with J first names in the assassin biz?), or an amalgamation of any of them. He’s an ordinary man by design. Sure, he’s a trained killer, someone you don’t meet every day.

Or do you?

See, the best covert operatives never look the part. They don’t have the carefully arranged hair, the chiseled jaw, the perfect physique. The best covert operatives don’t look any different from the rest of us. That’s by design. It’s kind of hard to be covert if you stand out in a crowd.

Fellow author Piper Bayard writes with a partner who is one of those real life covert operatives, or “spooks” as they are called in the industry.

So what do spooks do in real life? How is the real world of covert ops different from Hollywood’s usually inaccurate portrayal? Let’s go straight to the source:

http://piperbayard.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/james-bond-vs-the-spook/

 

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The Worst & Best Day of My Life

This weekend, as I competed in a Toastmasters contest in my local area with a theme of optimism and realizing your dreams, I was immediately reminded of a speech I gave last spring about this very topic and how a seemingly horrible situation turned into one of the best things that ever happened to me. I’d like to share my story here:

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November 12, 2008 – a date that will live in infamy.

I walked into the office at my usual 6:30 that morning, planning on a regular, normal day at work. I got my coffee while I waited for my computer to boot up through its long start-up process. By 7:30, coworkers began to trickle in, and by 8:00 we had a full house. I was engrossed in putting together the agenda for an upcoming training meeting when my boss stopped by my cube.

As I turned to look at her, I could tell by her expression that I wasn’t going to like the reason for her visit. I was right. She simply said, “David, can you come with me, please?” Without saying a word, I rose from my chair and followed her silently down the long, carpeted hall toward the HR department.

The rumors that had been swirling around the office for the past month had come true. Today was layoff day. We all knew it was coming, just not when or who would be affected.

Before we reached the door, she stopped, turned toward me, and through the beginnings of tears said, “Please understand, I had nothing to do with this. This decision was made above my head and against my wishes.” I told her I understood and said it would all be okay. Would it really be okay? I had no idea. But I hoped my words would ring true.

See, Jeanne had hired me and groomed me for advancement within the company. But the decision to lay me off had come from the top and was based solely on seniority. I had none. Instead, I was one of over 35 employees in my building who were cut that morning in a layoff that saw over 100 people company-wide get the axe.

Just over a year earlier, my pregnant wife and I and our 1-year-old daughter had moved from St. Louis to Hickory, North Carolina, my wife’s hometown, to work for this company, fiber optic technology giant Corning Cable Systems – a division of Corning, Inc., makers of Corning Ware and other glass products. Our son Jacob was born in February, we bought a house in June, and now in November I had just lost my job. Needless to say, the timing was less than opportune.

After turning in my name badge and company credit card and cleaning out my cube, I drove quietly home, calling my wife on the way to let her know why I was coming home early and why.

It was the worst day of my life.

What was I going to do? I didn’t know anyone in the area, except my in-laws. I had zero business connections. And now here I was, with a one-year-old, a brand new baby, a new house, and absolutely no idea what I was going to do. I was completely lost.

After I got over the initial shock, I pulled myself together and started to list of all the things I needed to do to get back to work.

  • File for unemployment
  • Put my resume online
  • Join local networking groups
  • Look for part-time work in the meantime just to get by

The list went on…

As I thought of what to do next, I immediately thought of baseball. Not playing it – umpiring. I had started umpiring high school baseball here in St. Louis before I moved, so I knew how it worked. Immediately I hopped online and found the local umpire association in the Hickory area and got connected for the upcoming season. I also registered to work basketball, which I had already done here, too, and then decided to try something new: football.

I also realized that with all my newly-found “free time,” I would finally have an opportunity to finish something I had started almost seven years before: writing my novel.

During the time I was unemployed, many other opportunities opened up to me that I would never have found otherwise.

  • I worked my way up to umpiring college baseball and met some amazing people along the way.
  • I added football to my officiating repertoire.
  • I got to spend amazing amounts of quality time with my family, which was especially great since the kids were so little.
  • And I finally got to finish my novel.

Don’t get me wrong: financially, times were tough. We barely made it through some months. But it was an experience I will never forget – and one I will look back on fondly. I learned many lessons, one of which is how to distinguish between what I NEED and what I WANT.

It’s amazing what you can learn to live without when you don’t have a choice.

By necessity, we cut out cable TV and other extraneous expenses, and you know what we found? We became much closer as a family. We wasted less time and spent much more time doing things together.

We have five fingers for a reason: to show us what we really NEED in life:

  1. Air
  2. Clothes
  3. Food
  4. Shelter
  5. Water

There is a big difference between what we want and what we need. For instance,

  • We need air, but fortunately, it’s free.
  • We need clothes, but they don’t have to be Ralph Lauren.
  • We need to eat, but we don’t have to have gourmet food.
  • We need shelter, but it doesn’t have to be a big, fancy house in the suburbs.
  • We need water, but it doesn’t have to be Perrier.

Everything else in life is a WANT. Everything.

After nearly three years of unemployment, having exhausted what few resources I had in North Carolina, we decided it was time to make a drastic change and begin looking for jobs back here in St. Louis. We knew the job market was better here and that I had more connections here. So I put out feelers and almost immediately found the terrific job I now have with New Balance.

Thanks to being laid off four years ago, I now have a better life that I did, with more opportunities to live life the way I want to.

November 12, 2008: One of the worst days of my life. And one of the best.

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An Industry by Any Other Name…

Who here remembers a little film from 1977 by the name of Star Wars? It did pretty well at the box office. And for a few years after. Almost 40. Do you remember which major Hollywood studio produced the film? 20th Century Fox eventually picked up the project so it would have wide distribution, but not until it was finished. George Lucas wasn’t a big fan of the studio system, having had commercial but not personal success with American Graffiti, which he felt wasn’t entirely the film he had envisioned. So with Star Wars he went out on his own, shot the whole picture with his own production company, Lucasfilm, and grafted in the special effects through his own Industrial Light & Magic.

After a rather paltry (by today’s standards) opening weekend taking in just over $250,000, the film has grossed over $800 million. That’s just the original, not the sequels. Not bad for an indie film.

It was this spirit of independence that allowed Lucas to make the film he wanted, rather than the film the so-called experts in Hollywood, many of whom poo-pooed the concept, wanted. It’ll never work, they said. Nobody wants to see a movie about robots. It’s too elaborate and won’t make back the cost of production.

Once again, Hollywood was wrong. (For further examples, see most Oscar-nominated pictures.)

Of course, Lucas is by no means the only successful independent filmmaker, a fact Hollywood would really rather overlook, thank you very much. The established film studios hate competition. With each other is fine, but not with outsiders, the unchurched of the movie biz. After all, independent director don’t make quality movies, right? Nobody wants to see a movie about robots.

So it is too with publishing. The Big Six publishers don’t exactly hate indie presses, as so far indies aren’t a huge threat. In fact, sometimes they like indie authors. Vince Flynn, for example, self-published his first book. Then someone at HarperCollins read it and signed him to a lucrative contract. Flynn became a very rich man, thanks in part to the indie publishing world.

But so far, the indie publishing industry is still regarded by many readers as second class drivel, a burgeoning collection of crapola that wasn’t good enough for “real” publishers to consider worth the ink. Tell someone you self-published and they politely set the book back down and smile as they slink away.

But that’s changing. Partially because of semantics.

Slowly, independent books are climbing the status ladder, thanks in part to better quality books, but more because of the way they are positioned in the market: not as self-published, but as “independent,” like films.

After all, it’s still the same deal. An author, like a director, gets an idea and crafts a story, only on paper instead of on screen. A few loyal supporters spread the word, often through social media and low-cost channels, and awareness begins to rise. There are book signings and blog posts, and if enough people agree that it’s a good book, they recommend it to friends and off it goes!

Is the self-publishing industry really that much different from the self-filming industry? Not really. The advantage the self-filming industry has is that it never called itself that. They were always independent films, which lent a certain credibility to the art.

So I propose we do away with the term “self-publishing” and stick exclusively to “independent.” It’s really a more appropriate term anyway.

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The Worst Ways to Begin a Novel

We’ve all heard the advice about the best ways to begin a novel: grab the reader’s attention, shock the audience, throw the reader headfirst into the story, etc. And while we all agree those are probably good ideas, some writer still insist on going their own way and breaking convention, just to be different. Sometimes different works. Sometimes it’s code for “shooting yourself in the foot.”

Here is a great blog post about the worst ways to begin a novel, by folks who know and care: literary agents. These are the folks you’re trying to impress with your manuscript. It might be a good idea to listen and heed.

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Writing the First Draft

Writers tend to be perfectionists. We hate mistakes. And we love to be clever, witty, poignant, current, relevant, funny, touching, exciting — the full range of emotions and storytelling. We also hate to edit and revise. But it’s part of the business. Yes, it’s a business, whether we think of it that way or not. In my “real job,” I write web content for a major shoe manufacturer. Most of what I write is headlines, email copy, and short sentences and phrases. The department lives and dies by the adage “Brevity is the soul of wit.” (Yes, we deliberately chose a shoe pun as our catch phrase. It’s how we roll.) Usually I have a strict character count or space I can fill, and it’s absolutely cannot be more or bigger. In my other writing career — books — I have no such restriction. However, many of the same rules apply about writing drafts and revisions, no matter your word count.

Writing resource Copyblogger.com created a terrific guide to writing the first draft of anything, from a short and pithy headline to the next great American novel. Check out their succinct 10 step process to explode your creativity!

10 Rules for Writing First Drafts
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