04 May 2022

The Tribe Gathers in Albuquerque

The last big event for the mystery community before Covid was Left Coast Crime 2020 in San Diego.  It was shut down on the first day.

The first big event in the after-we-hope times was, appropriately enough, also Left Coast Crime, this year in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was there.  It was lively and, I think, bigger than usual, because as one writer told me, it was the first gathering of the tribe in so long.

The first time I heard the mystery community referred to as a tribe was in 1993 when Donald E. Westlake was named a Grand Master by the MWA.  During his speech at the Edgars Banquet he said "You're my tribe!"  And so we are.

So let's talk about some of the highlights.  If you find yourself at an LCC in the future (like in Tucson, next spring) there are a few special events you don't want to miss.  One is the Author Speed Dating.  Twenty tables are set up and fans pick one and stay while forty authors make their way from table to table.  Each author has two minutes to explain why you should definitely buy their book and not all the other trash that's being promoted.  (Well, nobody says the last part.)  I have been on both sides and I can tell you it is much more fun being a listener at these things than a talker.  (Imagine giving the same elevator pitch 20 times in a row.)

Another treat is the New Author's breakfast where rookies  have a very brief moment to talk about their debut works.  I came away with a list of half a dozen books I wanted to check out.

The table hosts.

And then there's the Awards Banquet. I was lucky enough to host a table with the inimitable S.J. Rozan where we attempted to entertain seven guests while the food somewhat slowly appeared (more about that later).

The award winners, by the way, demonstrate one of the exciting trends we are seeing in our field: the increase in diversity of authors (and I hope readers). 

I moderated a panel on secondary characters, which gave me a chance to introduce Bonnar Spring, Greg Herren, Karen Odden, and (ahem) this year's MWA Grand Master Laurie R. King.  That was fun.

I was also on a panel on short stories.  As a major supporter of the brief mystery I was thrilled that there were three panels on that subject - and all were well-attended.

This weekend was my first opportunity to listen to Mick Herron who is flying high since Apple TV just premiered a series based on his Slow Horses spy novel series in April.  Literally true: When I heard that Gary Oldman had been cast as the main character I signed up for Apple TV, just like that.

Members of the Short Mystery
Fiction Society met for breakfast.

Herron was interviewed by editor Juliet Grames, who said that since Sir Mick Jagger had sung the theme song for Slow Horses they were obviously best buds now and needed a clever couple name.  Herron suggested The Micks, logically enough.    

The committee that ran LCC did a great job against, let's face it, an extreme degree of difficulty.  Covid kept some people away, made changes to seating arrangements, and probably accounted for some of the problems with the conference facility.  The hotel actually changed its name a week before the con, making finding it a bit exciting, and the staff seemed both undersized and undertrained.  Calling down for service felt a bit like, to steal a line from Don Marquis, dropping a rose petal in the Grand Canyon and waiting for an echo.  (When we went down to check out there was literally no one visible on the large ground floor. We strolled behind counters and into offices looking for people for about five minutes before someone showed up.)

But perhaps the biggest adventure came after the con when we filled our swag bags with tons of books we had picked up and walked them a few blocks to the Post Office.  We bought an official USPS carton, filled it with our treasures, sealed it with the official USPS tape and mailed it off.

It arrived a week later, and here you can see the contents.  What you cannot tell is that at least ten books had vanished from the box.  On the other hand, a bag of cheap Easter candy had been added.  I don't know whether that had belonged in some other damaged package or some postal clerk included it by way of apology.

Interestingly, some of the missing volumes were books I wrote and took to the con in hopes of selling (some did sell, I hasten to add).  Apparently nobody at the post office could guess that multiple copies of books written by Robert Lopresti probably belonged in the box that was addressed to Robert Lopresti.  

Hooray for insurance.  

But enough whining. It was great running into a lot of old friends and making new ones.  They had a lot of interesting stuff to say and next time I shall regale you with my favorite words of wisdom.  Till then, stay tribal.

03 May 2022

Everything is Fodder

Things many people find difficult to do:

  • Lose weight
  • Follow directions
  • Not give unsolicited advice on Facebook 

You can count me among "many people" when it comes to the first item. But with the other two, I know about their prevalence because I have been a victim of them.

A victim, I say!

Yes, yes, I occasionally give unsolicited advice, but it's always with hesitation. An explanation for why I'm wading in. An apology even. Other people, I've found, don't have such qualms.

An example (one of many): About two years ago, in the height of 2020 pandemic madness, I posted on Facebook that I had a lot of broccoli in my house but the dressing I'd gotten in my last grocery pickup didn't taste good. I mentioned the three other condiments I had at home (salsa, ketchup, and butter) and asked my friends if any of them would work with broccoli, as I had my doubts. (I hadn't thought of melting the butter--once that option was pointed out, it was a doh moment.) At any rate, I also made clear that I don't cook and had no other ingredients in the house, so I requested that my friends not make alternate suggestions of condiments to use or ways to cook the broccoli. I thought I was pretty clear.

Then the following happened. The conversation has been greatly condensed since I received more than 300 responses. Names have been removed to protect the guilty.

Friend A

Roast it in the oven with olive oil and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top. It’s not hard. Or steam it and top with butter and a squeeze of lemon juice. 


Don't have olive oil, cheese, or lemon. 

Friend A

Ok—just steam and add butter. Do you have Italian dressing. You could use that as an olive oil substitute.


Nope, I don't.

As you can see, I was calm at this point, merely reminding Friend A that I didn't have some of the items she suggested I use.

Friend B

A nice, sweet balsamic vinegar. I like white balsamic.


I don't have vinegar (and I don't like it either). More for you!

See how pleasant I was? This was early going.

Friend C

I roast broccoli with garlic and chopped up bacon.


I have no garlic and I don't like bacon.

Friend D

Saute in some olive oil with garlic. Squeeze on some lemon before eating if you have some. Delicious. Or roast tossed in olive oil with a little garlic salt or sea salt or Goya adobo seasoning.


I don't have any olive oil or garlic. Or lemon. Or sea salt or adobo seasoning. And sauteing and roasting means cooking. I don't cook. 

Friend E

Add it to something you like ... or, as others have said, butter is good, and I'd add some seasoned salt. I like sprinkling blends from Penzeys Spices on various foods. Their Salad Elegant would be great on broccoli.


I don't have seasoned salt. I wasn't kidding about the only possible toppings I have in the house. Butter, salsa, and ketchup.

Friend F

The extent to which people cannot comprehend the state of your pantry is deeply hilarious to me.


I am less amused.

Friend F

Would definitely think twice about hiring your fb friends for a job that requires ability to follow instructions.

She (Friend F) wasn't kidding. But I steeled myself and kept reading the responses.

Friend G

I would boil some water, add a ton of salt, and blanch the broccoli for like 2-3 minutes. Then drain and chill.



Friend G

Extremely easy. [Lists a link for how to blanch.]  

Note to the reader: Not extremely easy.

Friend H

Really tasty: sliced zucchini or yellow squash, plus a red sweet pepper, sauteed in olive oil or butter with garlic and sweet red onion or green spring onions. Add a little basil for punch, but it isn't required.


[Mouth hanging open.]

At this point, I stopped responding to almost all the comments, most of which were suggestions of other things I should cook using food I didn't have in the house. Me. The person who doesn't cook and who certainly would not be going to the market for the suggested foods. (Add one picky eater who doesn't cook and the height of the pandemic and you got hell no.) 

Occasionally, though, I became so incensed, I did respond.

Friend I

Saute in a pan, with ginger, olive oil and garlic, 1 T corn starch, and 1/4 cup of water.



Friend G

This post has turned absurd, and I love it.


That makes one of us

Friend J

Two of us! Sorry, Barb.


It's like people are trying to give me a stroke at this point.

Can you feel the stress? It's two years later, and reading all these comments is aggravating me all over again.

You may be wondering why I'm sharing all of this with you, other than for your amusement. It's because of something I often say: Everything is fodder. If you're looking for a story idea, mining current events or events in your own life is often a good place to start. I took this condiment conversation and my associated aggravation and put it to good use when the fine folks at Malice Domestic put out a call for short stories for their anthology titled Malice Domestic 16: Mystery Most Diabolical.

What if, I thought, a low-earning spendthrift without any morals is the only living relative of a rich elderly woman. He decides to friend her on Facebook, aiming to drive her crazy with unsolicited advice so she'll have a heart attack and die and he can inherit all her money. That sounded pretty diabolical to me. 

Five thousand words later, the idea became my newest short story, "Go Big or Go Home," which is the lead story in Mystery Most Diabolical. The book was released about ten days ago. I had a lot of fun writing the story. I hope readers will enjoy it just as much. And yes, it has Facebook conversations just like the one above.

Mystery Most Diabolical is out in trade paperback and hardcover. (Click here to buy from Amazon. Or, to buy directly from the publisher, click here (for paperback) or here (for hardback).) The ebook doesn't seem to be for sale yet, but I'm sure it's coming soon. The anthology has 32 stories, including one from fellow SleuthSayer Michael Bracken. I welcome the other authors in the book to share what their diabolical stories are about in the comments.

But before that ...

Congratulations to fellow SleuthSayer R.T. Lawton for winning the Edgar Award last week! And congratulations to Michael Bracken for winning the Derringer Award a few days ago!

And, for those of you in the Dallas, Texas, area, here's an event worth your time. Next Wednesday, May 11th, the Sisters in Crime North Dallas chapter will be hosting an in-person event for its recent inaugural anthology, Malice in Dallas: Metroplex Mysteries Volume 1! Books will be available for purchase, and authors with stories in the book will be on hand to sign copies. There also will be a scavenger hunt, drawings for prizes, and more! (What's the "more"? You have to go to find out!) The festivities will be at the J. Theodore Restaurant & Bar in Frisco, Texas, starting at 4:30 p.m. Central Time. Click here to learn more about the event and to RSVP.

Why am I telling you about Malice in Dallas? Because I had the pleasure of editing it. It has ten crime stories, including one by fellow SleuthSayer Mark Thielman. The tales will bring you to various locations throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth area, including Little Mexico, Lake Ray Hubbard, the downtown Dallas pedestrian tunnels, and Dealey Plaza, where President Kennedy was shot. We've got historicals, police procedurals, and amateur-sleuth mysteries. Some of the stories are humorous. Others are dark. All, I hope you'll agree, are good. If you can't make it to the event, you can still buy the book by clicking here.

02 May 2022

Edgars Week in New York: April 27-28, 2022

The Edgars in New York, like the Oscars in LA, has always been a time for mystery writers to put on their party duds and have a blast with their peers and peeps. Thanks to the pandemic, the last couple of years have been lonely ones for writers. But this spring, a lot of people got on planes, a lot more came off Zoom and closed their computers, some went to Albuquerque for Left Coast Crime, some to Bethesda for Malice, and a splendid aggregation foregathered in New York. Some of us, who actually live in New York and have been known for years for going to all the parties, were jumping with joy and ready to climb however many subway stairs it took to join in the festivities.

I gave the banquet a miss—expensive, and I knew I’d see all the nominees I knew elsewhere. SleuthSayers's own R.T. Lawton won the Edgar for Best Short Story with "The Road to Hana." Way to go, R.T.! When I saw him, he was a contender, along with Michael Bracken and co-writer James A. Hearn, who goes by Andrew, and Gigi Pandian, an old friend from Guppies in the early days when it actually meant Great UnPublished. I did attend the book launch for the MWA anthology, Crime Hits Home, edited by S.J. Rozan, at the legendary Mysterious Bookshop, and the pre-Edgars Dell party, which honors the EQMM Readers Choice Award winners as well as Edgar nominees for Best Short Story whose stories appeared in Ellery Queen’s and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines. Fellow Sleuthsayers are doing great this year: David Dean is a Readers Choice top four, and Steve Liskow has a story in the MWA anthology. I was also the first to volunteer when Michael Bracken asked who wanted to come out to lunch with him and Andrew Hearn. I didn’t know what Texans eat in 2022, so I took them to Restaurant Row on West 46th Street near Broadway, which offers everything from museum quality vegan to death by cholesterol and let them choose. Let’s put it this way: we didn’t eat vegan. Them Texans!

The rest of this will be a photo essay. I live to schmooze—when you see me taking pictures with my phone, never think I’m not also talking a mile a minute with the people I’m actually with—and I was in heaven. I took too many pix and not enough. Among folks you know whom I talked to but didn’t get a chance to snap were the ladies of Dell themselves—Janet Hutchings, Linda Landrigan, and Jackie Sherbow, whose hair is bright green these days—Art Taylor, Brendan DuBois, S.J. Rozan, Joe Goodrich, Richie Narvaez, Jacqueline Freimor, Michele Slung, Barry Zeman, and more. I wish I’d had a chance to say hello to Charlaine Harris, Toni L.P. Kelner aka Leigh Perry, and Charles Todd. Overall, I certainly got my writer people fix for a while.

Liz with Andrew Hearn and Michael Bracken
David Dean, Liz caught mugging, R.T. Lawton
Michael Bracken & Andrew Hearn at Bareburger
Liz with Gigi Pandian
Liz with Steve Liskow and Crime Hits Home
Jonathan Santlofer and Jane Cleland
Kevin Egan
Kiti and R.T. Lawton
Stacy Woodson at Mysterious Bookshop
Bill McCormick (or is it Reacher?) with Liz
Connie Johnson Hambley and Liz Zelvin
Liz Zelvin and Gigi Pandian
Liz with Meredith Anthony and Larry Light
Liz with Otto Penzler and Neil Nyren
Liz and Shelly Dickson Carr

01 May 2022

Cover Models – Bookface

When the internet isn’t saturating the landscape with Orwellian narratives, you have to admire how the World Wide Web lives up to its name. This time we have a three continent degrees of separation, Africa – Europe – North America. Our long-time friend ABA in South Africa (which has recently suffered terrible storm damage) drew my attention back to a Bordeaux bookstore, Librairie Mollat, in a topic we covered five years ago. For instance:

I admire this exceptionally clever example:

This time we have an official hashtag label, #bookface, and others can take part in the Bookface Challenge. Here then is another list of bookfaces, mostly new, but a few from before. Notice how the technique has evolved and become even more precise:

I've got to love the imagination:








Check out the rest of the lot. Meanwhile below, Leigh needs practice, lots of practice: #birdface

The Terry Gilliam Do-It-Yourself Cover

ABA, always a step ahead, suggested another item, reminiscent of the above.

© 9gag.com


And finally, a message to Edgar Winner R.T. Lawton for his story “The Road to Hana’,

Congratulations, R.T!

30 April 2022

Building a Dollhouse


As writers, we all have ups and downs, and so far this year I've been fortunate at Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine: they've published two of my stories--one in their Jan/Feb issue and one in their current (May/June) issue. Not since 1999, when I had stories in AHMM's March, May, and June issues, have I had stories appear there so close together. (I once went 3 1/2 years between publications at AH--unlike some of my superhero friends who seem to have a story in almost every issue.)

The funny thing is, my two recent Hitchcock stories, "Mayhem at the Mini-Mart" two months ago and "The Dollhouse" now, are quite a bit different from each other. "MatMM," which was originally titled "MacGuffins," was fairly short, was made up almost entirely of dialogue, and included no real mystery except for some deception in the way the two protagonists overcame the villain. "The Dollhouse" was longer and contained not one but two mysteries, real mysteries that the hero had to solve and that (if I did my job) the reader could figure out as well. There were a few similarities, too, in that both were set near where I live and neither had a lot of on-screen violence--but otherwise they were worlds apart, especially in that the first was a standalone story and the second was a series installment.

A series situation

The series/standalone difference is a big one. "The Dollhouse" was the eighth story I've sold featuring Mississippi sheriff Raymond Kirk Douglas and his ex-lawyer girlfriend Jennifer Parker--five have appeared in AHMM and one in Down & Out: The Magazine, and two more have been accepted at AH but haven't yet been published--and all those stories were written in a certain way. (More about that later.) Also, the stories in the series always have a sideline about the two main characters and their crazy on-again/off-again relationship. My standalone stories at AHMM are a whole 'nother ballgame. Those might be Westerns or science fiction or fantasy or humor or YA or anything else as long as they contain a crime, and they might be any length from flash to novella. During the writing process, the series stories provide more structure, the standalones more freedom. Both are fun to write, though, and I really can't say which I prefer. I think the series stories are probably easier to write, because in those the only thing I have to worry about is the plot. The main characters have already been created and can usually be depended on to act the way they're supposed to.

As I've mentioned, "The Dollhouse" features two puzzles in the same story. Investigating one of them is done as a favor to a high-school principal who's an old friend of the sheriff's, and involves nothing earthshaking or life-threatening. The other mystery is serious: the death of a local lawyer who left behind a vague clue to the identity of his killer. As usual the sheriff''s lady friend takes an active though unofficial role in the murder investigation, and (as is often true in real life) she provides most of the brainpower.

NOTE 1: My choice to include two mysteries instead of one in the same story is typical of the series, and I hope that adds a little extra oomph. Of my eight Ray Douglas mysteries so far, three of them--#1, #3, and #5--contained only one traditional mystery each, but #4, #6, and #7 contained two separate mysteries each and #2 and #8 featured three each. Making those multiple storylines interconnect was challenging but fun.

Building blocks

In "The Dollhouse," the less-important, school-related crime is introduced in the opening scenes and resolved in the final scenes, with the homicide investigation taking up the entire middle section of the story. My obvious reason for that is that I wanted the law-enforcement folks to spend most of their time on the more serious of the two matters. I did figure it was reasonable, though, to include the less-urgent mystery in order to offset and "bookend" what would've otherwise been a more intense story. Who knows if that was the correct decision--but  it felt right to me, during the planning and writing and re-writing.

I also wanted the story title to tie into both of the plotlines. I did that by having one of the players in the more minor crime have a background as a dollmaker and letting that be meaningful to the solution of that part of the story, and also by giving the murder victim's law firm the name Dahl, Hauss, Stanley, Wells, and Yates--Dahl Hauss for short, so it's known as the Dollhouse to everybody in the county. This kind of thing is part of the fun of writing, and, as my wife can tell you, I'm easily amused anyway.

Also, like all the other stories in this series, it used an inside-joke Tuckerism in that it featured a sheriff's deputy named Cheryl Grubbs, which is also the name of one of my childhood schoolmates. I think I've mentioned before at this blog that I ran into Cheryl a few years ago at a booksigning after having not seen her since high school, and she told me she'd been a longtime fan and had always wanted to be in one of my stories. Well, be careful what you wish for; I told her I was about to start a new series and promised her I'd put her in it. (Truth is, Deputy Grubbs is now such a big part of these stories the sheriff can't fire her, so the real-life C. G. might've gotten more than she bargained for.)

NOTE 2: Since a lot of writer friends seem to be interested in these kinds of statistics, I submitted "The Dollhouse" to AHMM on 11/20/19, it was accepted on 8/25/20, and it was published on or around 4/15/22. This one took a little less time than usual from submission to acceptance and a little longer from acceptance to publication, but otherwise it was a pretty typical timeline, for my stories there.

Wrapping this up

A few quick questions. If you write "series" short stories, have you found them to be either easier or more enjoyable to write than standalones? Why? Or is it the other way around--and, again, why? (Nosy SleuthSayers want to know . . .)

In closing, sincere congratulations to my friend R.T. Lawton for his Edgar win this past Thursday night. What a huge honor. Well done, R.T.! 

See you next Saturday.

29 April 2022

Gilded Time

Trade Paperback and eBook published by Big Kiss Productions, March 2022

Fascinated by the Gilded Age, I started putting a story together a few years ago. The germ of the idea involved interactions between a wealthy family and a working-class family. I began with the main characters.

The Den Helder family, a railroad tycoon and wife, along with their 21-year old daughter Alicia and 18-year old twins Elspeth and Matthew, lived in a mansion across the street from a elegant municipal park in the wealthy part of town.

Mike Labruzzo, a 27-year old police detective, a single father raising a 4-year of daughter, lived along the edge of the poor side of town.

Setting? Couldn't use New Orleans. The years after the Civil War until the end of the 19th Century may have been a Gilded Age for many Americans but the south was going through Reconstruction. So I thought of New York only I didn't know enough about NYC to set the story there. So where? Chicago? I know less about Chicago.

Hell, I'm a fiction writer. I made up a town called Noressex in Westchester County, New York, about forty miles up the Hudson from NYC. Spent a couple months laying out and naming the streets, building the mansions, houses, tenements, industries, parks, churches, schools.

Added supporting characters – the Den Helder household servants, relatives and friends and fleshing out the Noressex Police Department where Detective Labruzzo worked, and his friends and relatives around the rooming house where he and his little girl lived.

Started the story with a bang, Labruzzo and his partner rescuing Matthew Den Helder from a brawl at a bawdy house in the part of Noressex where young men secretly frequented. Labruzzo has the injured 18-year old taken to a nearby hospital. Visting him later, the detective meets Alicia and eventually Elspeth Den Helder and the rest of the family.

Once the charaters were set in motion, I went along and wrote down what they did until they reached the climax of the story I had laid out in a two paragraph outline. It took 102,000+ words but man, I enjoyed every minute of the ride.

Lot of crime fiction in this historical novel.

That's all for now.


28 April 2022

Questionable Choices: Roman Emperor-Style

Somebody a whole lot smarter than Yours Truly once said: "Actions reveal character." And a lot of people who have come along afterward and read that sentence have agreed with and quoted (or mangled) said sentence.

Speaking as someone with a background in historical/biographical analysis, I can say from experience that history is replete with examples of this sort of thing. Some of the more amusing (and horrifying) ones come down to us from the annals of Imperial Rome. Let's take a look at a few of them, shall we? Specifically those of the emperors themselves. Bear in mind that each of the actions referenced below was the action of the most powerful man in the Mediterranean world at the time.

The "Mad" Emperor Caligula
Let's start with a pretty obvious and telling example.

The emperor Gaius (Nicknamed "Caligula," Latin for "Little Boots," a nickname no one dared call him to his face) at one point in his brief four-year reign, appointed his favorite race horse a member of the Roman Senate.

Roll that one around in your head for a minute.

* Was Caligula just nuts?
* Was he making a larger point about the irrelevance of the Senate and what he thought of its members?
* Both?
* Was Cassius Dio (the writer who left us with this anecdote), who wrote about Caligula hundreds of years after his death, making the whole thing up?

(For the purposes of this discussion: an illustration of actions revealing character, let's assume the veracity of each set of reported facts.)

You can likely draw your own conclusions.

A Couple of Other Examples:

Agrippina crowning her son emperor and him looking less than grateful.

We have a whole host of this sort of telling anecdote about that most infamous of Roman emperors, Nero. Including these choice nuggets:

Once flew into a rage and assaulted his pregnant wife, knocked her to the ground, and kicked her in the abdomen until she began to hemorrhage. She died in the midst of the subsequent miscarriage.

* Had his overbearing, power-hungry mother Agrippina murdered. She, more than anyone else, paved the way for Nero's rise to the imperial throne. Not least by marrying the previous emperor (her uncle, Claudius) and then poisoning him with a plate of his favorite food: mushrooms.


Galba: the embodiment of "penny wise, pound foolish."
A martinet to shame all other pretenders to the title, the wildly successful general (and later wildly unsuccessful emperor) Galba is probably best known as the first of four generals whose troops proclaimed him emperor and marched on Rome to have him installed within the following year. It was Galba whose march on Rome led to the death-by-suicide of his erratic monster of a predecessor, Nero.

Yet Galba's most telling action was first offering a bribe to the members of the Praetorian Guard (the emperor's personal bodyguards, and the only military unit allowed to go armed within the walls of the capital city), and then reneging on the offer, once he got to Rome and saw how utterly Nero had bankrupted the Roman treasury.

Note to any would-be usurping strong-men out there: if you're going to offer the guys whose job it is to guard your body a hefty bribe in order to buy their loyalty. You probably want to really think before you decide not to follow through on that offer.

Galba didn't, and paid the price. The Praetorians assassinated him, and then backed another general. This one paid off on his promised bribes.

Tune in next time for more tales of Roman emperors and their questionable choices, and what they reveal about character. See you in two weeks!

27 April 2022

Performance Anxiety

Talking to a guy I know – we’ll call him Mike – who was once upon a time in the same trade I was, and who still has skin in the game, I wondered what he thought about how badly the Russians have stepped on their dicks in Ukraine.  There were in fact two parts to the question: why Russia has underperformed so fatally, and why Western intelligence so overestimated their war-fighting capacity beforehand.

Mike happened to be on his way to Ft. Huachuca for a workshop, or a briefing, or a roundtable, at the least a guarded conversation with some other stakeholders on this very subject, so he already had his ducks lined up, and was ready to share them. 

The chief impediment is that Russian command authority is rigidly hierarchal.  The culture and doctrine are top down.  Initiative is career suicide.  And the weakest link is simply that there’s no professional NCO class, not in the sense that an American combat soldier would understand.  Russian junior enlisted are cannon fodder; their sergeants are brutal, indifferent, and corrupt.  Morale is clearly in the toilet, unit cohesion near collapse. 

Where, then, did the intelligence consensus come from, that the Russians were going to kick ass in Ukraine?  Mike had an answer for that one, too.  We put a lot of faith in the hardware.  That’s because intelligence analysis mirrors our own presumptions.  In other words, NSA looks at the performance specs for, say, the MiG-31, and the obvious question is how it stacks up against the F-16.  Same thing with tanks, or infantry weapons: the AK-47 is one of the most copied guns in the world.  Our attention is fixed on the platform.  Mike’s point being that less weight was given to the personnel, the existing skillset of the pilots or the tank crews or the ground-pounders, or in support.

Like a lot of things, once you hear the explanation, you slap your forehead and tell yourself it makes perfect sense.  Nor do I think it’s Monday-morning quarterbacking.  For me, it actually conforms to what I learned back in Berlin, in the 1960’s, during the Cold War, when our target was the Soviet occupying forces in Eastern Europe, and the Warsaw Pact.  Poland and East Germany and Hungary and the other satellites were being trained by Russians, on Russian equipment, so there was a lot of overlap. 

The reason we were there, if I haven’t made it clear before, or if you’re new to this space, was to provide a basic profile of what the Russians could throw at us.  In military vocabulary, it’s called an Order of Battle.  A specific example might be: How many aircraft are at Zossen Wunsdorf? - Are they fighters or ground attack? – And how many pilots? - What’s their readiness posture?  This is all numbing detail, but it kept the Cold War from going hot.

Here’s why I don’t think the Russians have learned anything in fifty years.  Back in the day, they had sophisticated systems and platforms, but they didn’t trust them, or they didn’t trust their people, which adds up to the same.  They scrambled fighters, for drills, using Ground-Controlled Intercept, or GCI.  MiG-21’s and Yak-28’s were fitted with on-board pursuit radars, and a ground station tracking their targets could transmit encrypted signals directly from the ground radar to the pursuit radar on the aircraft, and the radar would vector the plane to target, all done electronically.  Hands off.  Fire and forget.  We, meaning your humble servant and his crowd, were listening to the pilot chatter, we could image the Russian ground radar, we could follow the encrypted signals, we intercepted the frequency shifts from the aircraft’s radar and knew when it went from Lock to Launch.  In effect, we were in the cockpit, too.  And not a single one of those pilots, or their command structure on the ground, believed the system would work on its own.  Every instruction the pilots got, every course correction that was transmitted, over a secure network, the pilot would repeat, in the clear, on Voice.  “Roger that, turning to heading 270.”  At which point you watched him on radar, changing course to 270.  I kid you not.  And you wonder why Russian generals are getting blown out of their shoes in Ukraine?  They’re using open comms.

I think there are other reasons for what’s going on.  I think the Ukrainian defense is heroic.  Volodymyr Zelensky has bigger balls than Vladimir Putin.  And the resolve from NATO has been unexpectedly solid.  But at its most basic level, the Russian disaster is a character flaw.  Arrogance defeats empires.