By Mike Freeman
July 28, 2017
The story of Michael Oher has become so large, so legendary, that in some ways we’ve forgotten there’s a real human being underneath it all.
In many ways, what’s happened to Oher represents what happens to many NFL players. They bash their heads in (by choice). They play with brain injuries that would sideline normal human beings for months (by choice).
Saturday, July 29, 2017
By Mark Rubinstein
May 4, 2017
Ace Atkins is the bestselling author of 21 novels, including The Fallen and now, Little White Lies. Ace has been nominated for every major award in crime fiction, including the Edgar Award. A former newspaper reporter and football player at Auburn, Ace also writes essays and investigative pieces for several national publications including the Wall Street Journal, Garden & Gun, and Men’s Journal.
Little White Lies picks up on Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels for which Ace was selected as the writer by the Parker estate. The story beings with Connie Kelly who thought she found her perfect man on an online dating site. She fell so hard for M. Brooks Welles, she wrote him a check for nearly $300,000 to be invested on her behalf. Soon afterwards, both her money and Welles are gone. When Spenser discovers everything about Welles was phony, it’s just the beginning of a trail leading from Boston to the backroads of Georgia, where deadly surprises await Spenser and his friend Hawk.
Before we talk about Little White Lies, some questions about Ace Atkins. Was there an event or influence in your early years that made you want to become a writer?
The biggest thing for me was I really loved books as a kid. I wasn’t just a causal reader. I really was obsessed with books. In high school, I became a book collector of rare editions and I was very into Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, so it just fed into my wanting to write my own stories.
You obviously have a natural talent for storytelling, but you were also influenced by these early exposures. In your view, is becoming a writer an inborn trait or something one learns? Is it nature or nurture?
I’ve thought about that with my own kids. I think there are kids who tend to have a richer fantasy life than others. They seem to have more imagination and possess a creative tendency.
I think the most valid view is a writer has to have a little bit of both. There must to be talent and innate curiosity, but a writer should hone these abilities to translate what’s inherently in his mind on to the page. So, it’s a bit of DNA coupled with learning the craft.
You were a varsity football player at Auburn and became a journalist. How did that come about?
It wasn’t easy [Laughter]. My biggest motivator was I didn’t want to become a football coach. I majored in mass communications, studying screen writing, and also took English and Southern literature courses.
I had a friend who said ‘It you want to become a writer, the best place to do it is to go into the newsroom.’ I thought about people like Hemingway and Graham Greene and other writers I respected who honed their craft as journalists. I was living in Florida and took a job with the St. Petersburg Times. I was scraping by earning pennies writing stories. I’m not kidding, I was paid thirty bucks per story. If I got fifty bucks, it was a windfall. Eventually, I became a fulltime reporter.
It took a few years before I got my sea legs because I didn’t have a journalism background. It was also a bad time with the recession. Reporters were being laid off, but eventually, I became a staff writer at the Tampa Tribune. That experience was valuable because the editors helped me hone what I was doing and I became a much better writer.
How did your career as a journalist prepare you for writing fiction?
One of the things I see with amateur writers, or those who haven’t been in the news business as print journalists, is a failure to get to the point of a story. As a journalist, you learn that words are cheap, and that everything you put on the page is not magic. Having worked with some very tough news editors, I learned how to get to the point of a story. For instance, in a news story, I might have two-thousand quotes, but I had to decide which were the best quotes to use in a story. I learned the meaning of dialogue and which words had the most impact. I learned how to write good sentences and to write with clarity and color.
Those were the lessons that prepared me to become a fiction writer, drawing on my training and experiences writing news feature stories.
I understand Little White Lies is loosely based on an ex-FOX News pundit’s false CIA claims and other con men you covered as a journalist over the years. Will you talk about that?
I’ve always been fascinated by con men. Let me tell you something, Tampa and the St. Petersburg area of Florida are con man havens. Certain kinds of people who’ve screwed up go there to reinvent their lives.
I was really fascinated by Wayne Simmons. His story is relevant to today’s news cycles where people are debating what is truth versus what is fake news. People who watch news programs on television may not realize that what they’re seeing is programmed more for entertainment than for imparting accurate information.
This guy, Wayne Simmons, was able to work his way onto television shows claiming to have been a CIA analyst and officer. He was eventually ‘outed” by people who had actually worked for the CIA. He conned a woman out of a few hundred thousand dollars in a real estate scam.
I also ran into a story about a man I covered as a reporter. He’d worked a similar kind of scam with women all over Tampa. The CIA scam is the best one these people use. It’s the greatest go-to for con men because the CIA cannot confirm or deny employment. It can’t be verified or disproven. While I was working at the Tampa Tribune, I wrote about this guy and did a three-part series on con men.
Since Spenser never had to go up against a good con man case, I figured Little White Lies would involve this kind of scam. Years ago, I actually met Frank Abagnale, a reformed con man who was about to have a movie made about his exploits. Catch Me If You Can is based on his story. Another con man scam is someone claiming to have been a former Navy SEAL. I know a former SEAL who ‘outs’ about thirty of these guys every single day.
I’ve noticed that in Little White Lies and other books in the Spenser series, Spenser has a cynical and edgy sense of humor. Will you talk about the role of humor in thrillers and mysteries?
There’s humor in Spenser’s world view as originally written by Robert B. Parker. And, it’s somewhat consistent with my own view of things. Spenser is the same as he was in the 1970s. Ironically, I feel I have more in common with Spenser than with my own creation, Quinn Colson.
As for humor in thrillers and mysteries, when I pick up a book that doesn’t have a thread of humor in it, I have very little patience for it. I sense my patience dwindling as I get older. The writers I really respect, and who write with a nice helping of humor—for instance, Carl Hiaasen—do so, even though they write serious stories. I’ve been writing fiction for almost twenty years, and as an older writer, I realize it’s something I enjoy incorporating into my writing. Raymond Chandler wrote about some very dark alleys in LA, but he wrote with humor, as did Bob Parker. Humor made Spenser very special for me.
Little White Lies has some chilling fight scenes. Will you talk about constructing such pulse-pounding scenes?
In his later years, Bob Parker got away from some of the raw violence. In his last few books, the violence was somewhat bloodless. The fight scenes in his early books were really nasty and didn’t feel choreographed. And Spenser did not always win, but he always persevered. I’ve tried to craft Spenser’s fight scenes with realism. Violence is ugly. It’s not a video game. I write it with detail, grit and authenticity.
In Bob Parker’s early books, gritty violence was a hallmark of the series, and fans commented they liked that very much.
You’ve written various series with different protagonists. Which character has been the most compelling for you to write?
The most compelling for me would have to be Quin Colson. I’m vitally invested in watching Quinn grow and evolve. I’ve been writing the Spenser novels for seven years. He’s a fully formed man who knows who he is. He’s well aware of his faults and strengths.
Quinn Colson is more of a work in progress. He’s a younger man who is changing. Like many heroes in legends and myths, he’s gone off to war, has come home and must fight things in his own backyard. It’s interesting for me to see who he will become. When I first created him he was twenty-nine years old. Now, I hope I’m writing him as an older man who’s going through an evolution.
Can you complete the following sentence? Writing novels has taught me____________.
I think it’s taught me to understand people more than I did before. I would like to say that it’s given me empathy, but I don’t think I’m there yet. Writing novels has helped me understand people more than I did before. It’s helped me understand the motivations of people—even the bad guys. It’s allowed me to explore human nature. So, sort of like Quinn Colson, I’m evolving, too.
What’s coming next from Ace Atkins?
The new Quinn Colson book, The Fallen, is next. My foreseeable future involves Spenser and Quinn. I’m very fortunate because I do love these two characters.
Congratulations on writing Little White Lies the latest in a series described by the Associated Press as “Classic Spenser—the Spenser of wry wit, tasty food and drinks, hard workouts and lethal confrontations…once again, Atkins has delivered a thriller that evokes the best of Parker’s Spenser series.” The AP assessment is right on the money!
Mark Rubinstein’s latest non-fiction book is Beyond Bedlam’s Door: True Tales from the Couch and Courtroom, a medical/psychiatric memoir.
Friday, July 28, 2017
Bard College professor Sean McMeekin is a reliable guide to a complex story and his book moves seamlessly and clearly across a vast landscape of people and events.
By Terry Hartle
June 1, 2017
The Russian Revolution of 1917 was one of the landmark events of the 20th century. Yet when compared to some of the century’s equally momentous developments such as the outbreaks of World Wars I and II, the birth of the nuclear age in 1945, and even the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the radical changes that reshaped Russia are little understood in the West.
But in recent years, a new generation of scholars has begun to mine the Communist party’s once sealed archives and that, coupled with the 100th anniversary of these revolutionary events, has led to renewed attention to the origins and impact of the Russian Revolution.
In The Russian Revolution: A New History, Bard College professor Sean McMeekin has written a superb and eye-opening account of this important chapter in 20th century history that will be indispensable reading for those anxious to learn more about this seminal event and the aftershocks that followed.
The story begins in 1905, when Russia was utterly defeated in the Russo-Japanese War. In the middle of this conflict, a protest in St. Petersburg turned violent and the "Bloody Sunday” massacre briefly radicalized the population. Later that same year, a mutiny in the armed forces and a general strike forced Tsar Nicholas II to make concessions that included, for the first time, the creation of a parliament with very limited powers known as the "Duma.” Aided by the imposition of martial law, the unrest dissipated.
Somewhat surprisingly, after this near-death experience, the regime enjoyed a resurgence of domestic prestige and the economy boomed. In the first decade of the new century, the Russian economy was "growing at nearly 10 percent annually, turning heads just as dramatically as a surging China has in the twenty-first.” This, along with modest land reform, seemed to herald a new day. But internal political stability rested on the maintenance of peace. And, unfortunately for the Tsar, when World War I broke out, Russia eagerly moved against Germany and the Austro-Hungary Empire.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the fighting was going reasonably well for the Russians. But on the home front, especially in Petrograd (as St. Petersburg had been renamed to make it sound “less German” during the war), food and fuel shortages coupled with political unrest led by liberals led to the February Revolution that, after a "bewildering series of events,” quickly toppled the Tsar. He abdicated in favor of his brother Grand Duke Michael, who then immediately abdicated to "the Provisional Government.”
When the politicians finally sorted things out, 36-year old Alexander Kerensky found himself in charge. He soon faced a new challenge: Because the United States had recently entered the war, Germany wanted to get Russia out of the war to move more troops to the Western front. To do this, the Germans allowed Vladimir Lenin and a handful of aides to travel from neutral Switzerland through Germany and into Russia. Not only did they deliver him to Petrograd, they gave him ample funds to sow chaos once he arrived in April. Lenin was the German choice because he was, in the words of one German diplomat, "much more raving mad” than the rest of Russia’s socialists.
Sow chaos he did. Unlike Kerensky, who wanted to continue to fight, Lenin called for "revolutionary defeatism" – that is, turning Russian military units against the war – in hopes of forging a peace settlement. Over the next six months, Lenin's approach gained adherents and Kerensky's government proved shockingly inept. Eventually, the Bolsheviks seized control of Petrograd and Moscow and took charge of the government.
But the Communists did not control the country, even after they signed the draconian Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Germans. By July 1918, "Russia had been reduced to a shadow of its former self." Czechs, Slovaks, Turks, and various groups of Cossacks controlled large parts of the country and a million German troops occupied formerly Russian Poland, the Baltic, White Russia, and Ukraine. And the economy was in a shambles.
But Lenin was lucky. As the German armies collapsed on the Western front, Lenin reestablished the Russian army and, with the leadership of Minister of War Leon Trotsky, began the long and complicated task of expelling foreign armies. After the foreign powers withdrew in late 1920, Lenin moved to subdue his countrymen – mostly peasants – who had not accepted the Bolsheviks. Red Army troops beat and starved the proletariat into submission. Huge challenges remained, including famine and bankruptcy, but the revolutionary changes were in place. Lenin and the Soviets would rule Russia for the next 70 years.
"The Russian Revolution" is a carefully researched, well-written assessment of the complex and confusing events that did so much to shape the last century. McMeekin is a reliable guide to a complex story and the book moves seamlessly and clearly across a vast landscape of people and events.
Several themes dominate the book. First, McMeekin makes clear that there was nothing inevitable about the outcome. Before, during, and after 1917, all parties – the Tsar, Kerensky, and Lenin – made serious mistakes and the outcome could easily have been different.
Second, the indiscriminate and continuous use of terror that we associate with the Soviet Union was on display from the start. Indeed, Lenin and the Bolsheviks were so ruthless that even the German army was taken aback.
Finally, McMeekin makes clear that a small number of key figures played central roles and that what these individuals did (or did not do) shaped the outcome. Nicholas II was hapless and hopelessly out of touch. Kerensky was simply overwhelmed. Lenin had both the vision to turn the soldiers against the war and German money to finance the project. But he was remote – and often out of the country during crucial events – and lacked the personal courage of Leon Trotsky.
Historians often debate whether individuals make history or history makes individuals. In the case of the Russian Revolution and the emergence of the Soviet Union, it's clear that what individuals did, or did not do, at crucial times decisively shaped the outcome.
Thursday, July 27, 2017
By Steve Feinstein
July 27, 2017
Back in the sky: This iconic Mark 1 plane was among the first built in March 1940, but Spitfire P9374 never made it to the Battle of Britain as it crash-landed over Dunkirk in May 1940. In 1980 the wreckage was discovered when part of it was spotted poking out from its sandy grave. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/)
Although most people under 40 are astonishingly ignorant about it, a great worldwide armed conflict known as World War II took place from 1939-1945 in the European and Pacific regions. It is relevant and important to know and understand because the outcome of World War II put into place the political, economic and geographical conditions and relationships that make the world what it is today. An understanding of the ramifications of WWII is central to comprehending how today’s world came to be. People under 40—heck, even under 60—would do themselves a huge favor if they learned some history and saw how that history affected today’s world.
The 1939 war in Europe was caused mostly by the consequences of the unresolved complications and volatile conditions that persisted following the end of World War I in 1918. World War I took place from 1914 to 1918 and was a struggle for the control of Europe, primarily between the Germans on one side against the French and British (aided by America after 1917) on the other side. Germany remained particularly unstable in the years after the end of the Great War (as WWI came to be known) and in retrospect, many historians now feel that another war in Europe was inevitable.
The inevitability of another European war after 1918 became reality on Sept. 1, 1939 when Germany turned eastward and attacked Poland. Having built up its military forces in direct contravention to post-WWI treaties, Germany overwhelmed Poland in a matter of a few short weeks, using their newly-developed blitzkrieg tactics. Unlike the ponderous, static, slow-motion trench warfare that dominated World War I, Germany saw the potential of combining fast-moving armored forces with close-support air power (dive bombers and fast low-altitude bombers) to deliver a decisive, overpowering blow to their enemy’s critical targets in the very early stages of the action. (Germany’s blitzkrieg tactics were so successful that the term has now become part of the popular lexicon, meaning any quick, overwhelming action, whether in sports or business or some other endeavor.)
Following a relatively uneventful 1939-1940 winter (a time period that came to be known as the “Phony War”), Germany resumed its hostilities against Europe in the spring of 1940, turning its attention westward. German forces blasted through the “Low Countries” of the Netherlands and Belgium and swung around to invade France from a point behind its main defensive eastern border with Germany. Following World War I, France fortified its eastern border with Germany with a massive wall of concrete and armament called the Maginot Line in an effort to prevent any future invasion by Germany. But Germany attacked the Netherlands and Belgium to the north and west of Germany, through the supposedly impenetrably dense Ardennes forest and then swung into France from behind the Maginot Line. France’s expensive, foolproof defense against German aggression proved to be a worthless folly.
As German forces poured into France, the French military was disoriented, confused and demoralized. Despite having numerical superiority over Germany in planes and equipment, the French utterly failed to mount an effective defense of their homeland. Desperate and panicked, France pleaded with Britain to send men and materiél to their aid.
Sometimes, what might seem to be a small decision at the time can have huge long-range consequences, with repercussions that last decades into the future, even to the point of altering the course of history. Such was the case in the battle for France in May of 1940.
British Air Marshal Lord Hugh Dowding made the decision to not send any of Britain’s valuable Spitfire fighter aircraft to France for the fight against the Germans. The Spitfire was generally regarded as the best fighter plane in the world at the time (narrowly edging out Germany’s BF-109). Dowding correctly recognized that Britain would soon be in a one-on-one fight for survival against Germany and any hope Britain had of fighting off the German air force (the Luftwaffe) rested squarely on the shoulders of their small contingent of Spitfires.
As I wrote in 2008:
The British proved themselves prescient when they sent only second-line Hurricane fighters to fight against the Germans in France. In spite of vehement French protests, Air Marshal Lord Dowding (head of Britain's Fighter Command) refused to allow any of Britain's valuable front-line Spitfire fighter planes to be "wasted" in what he knew would be a losing effort in France. Better to husband them for England's solitary fight to come against the Germans after France's capitulation.
By the end of May, the German forces had cornered the remnants of the allied armies into a small, vulnerable pocket in Dunkirk, near the coast of France. It appeared that the European war would soon be over, as the German army was poised to finish the job. Exactly what happened next is the subject of some controversy, but the lessons for military planners reverberate as clearly today as they did then, some 68  years ago.
Rather than sending in their armored, tank-equipped Panzer divisions to destroy the virtually defenseless allied forces, the Germans held them back. Instead, the finishing task was given to Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe. Military historians have posited that perhaps Germany's armored Panzer divisions were stretched too thin and had outrun their supply lines, and thus needed time for rest and recuperation. Another popular theory has it that the head of the Luftwaffe—Hermann Göring—was envious of the glory that his Army counterparts were getting from their numerous overwhelming victories, and he wanted to prove that his air force was worthy of similar accolades.
But regardless of the reason, the German air force was given the responsibility, and it failed. That decision remains one of the greatest military blunders of all time. The Luftwaffe flew sortie after sortie, attacking the Allied armies, but couldn't finish the job. Instead, the British organized an amazing sea-borne rescue effort and sent hundreds of ships and boats of all kinds across the Channel to rescue the beleaguered soldiers. Everything from Royal Navy transport ships to private fishing boats participated in the effort. The RAF flew cover and fought off the German air attacks. Although their losses were high and virtually all their equipment was left on the beaches of Dunkirk, almost 400,000 Allied soldiers were rescued, and survived to fight another day.The Spitfires were the missing weapon in the Fall of France. If the British had sent Spitfires to France and wasted those invaluable, irreplaceable front-line fighter planes and pilots in the weeks prior to Dunkirk in a hopelessly futile effort to save France from the German onslaught, then surely the German Luftwaffe would have succeeded in destroying the Allied armies on the beaches of Dunkirk. Absent the Spitfire, there were no British fighter planes that could defeat the BF-109 in head-to-head combat. British Hawker Hurricane was less than equal to the 109 while the Bolton Paul Defiant was completely outclassed. In the likely event of significant Spitfire losses in the battle for France (even if just mostly from normal high-stress military service attrition and accidents), the Germans would have ruled the skies over Dunkirk and their bombers—unhindered by numerically-significant Spitfire opposition—would have exacted a decisive, fatal toll on both the trapped Allied soldiers on the beach and the beleaguered British ships and boats that were trying to help.
But that was not the case. There were enough (barely enough!) Spitfires to keep the German air force at bay in the skies over Dunkirk. Lord Dowding’s decision to withhold Britain’s priceless Spitfires from the losing, pointless exercise in France was unquestionably one of the most important, consequential decisions in military history. Few history books even mention it and neither does the otherwise-excellent current movie Dunkirk, but the “no Spitfires sent to France” decision ranks as one of the very most important military judgments of all time.
A clear indication of the Spitfire’s unmatched excellence came from an unlikely source, none other than General Adolf Galland, high-ranking German ace, who became head of all of Germany’s fighter forces later in the war. When asked by Hermann Göring (Reichsmarschall of the Luftwaffe) what he needed to be more successful in battle, Galland famously replied, “I should like a staffel[squadron] of Spitfires for my gruppe!”
At the very end of the movie Dunkirk, there is a dedication screen that reads, “Dedicated to all the individuals whose lives have been impacted by the events at Dunkirk.” It’s an intentionally subtle and brilliant statement by director Christopher Nolan, since everyone in the world since 1940 has been “impacted” by the events that took place there. Had the Germans won the war in Europe—and they were within a hairsbreadth of doing that at Dunkirk—the world would be a drastically different place today. Everyone’s lives would have been impacted. But Britain’s heroic Royal Air Force—led by those courageous pilots flying their Spitfires—didn’t let that happen.
Read more: http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2017/07/the_missing_weapon_ay_dunkirk.html#ixzz4o35glh4u
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After fall of the Soviet Union, the ISI provided strategic support and intelligence to the Afghan Taliban against the Northern Alliance during the civil war in Afghanistan of the 1990s. During more recent times, however, it has come under increasing criticism from both civilian and military circles for not having kept terrorist forces in society in check, especially against harbouring terrorists and acts against military forces, particularly those in neighbouring India. Recent political commentators and journalists, including Seymour Hersh, have noticed how dreaded terrorists like Osama Bin Laden had taken refuge close to military headquarters in Abottabad, Pakistan, and how it would be "impossible for the ISI not to know".