Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Hachette: We Are Still Relevant!

This time I remembered to link to where I'm guest blogging.

Today, there was a leak of an internal Hachette memo on why Hachette (and, by extension, legacy publishing generally) is still relevant. I fisk it with Joe Konrath over at Joe's blog. It's pretty bad... but see for yourself.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Leon Panetta is Full of Shit

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wants you to be scared.

In a letter to Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, Panetta warned that after possible cuts in the military budget, "we would have the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history."

Which would be pretty damn bad… if we wound up having to go to war with America's 1940 army, 1915 navy, or some historical version of America's Air Force. If we're lucky, though, and don't have to go to war with past incarnations of our military, Panetta's comparison is logically nearly irrelevant. In fact, even the most massive cuts currently under consideration would return American military spending only to 2007 levels. So as long as we don't have to go to war with our 2007 military, we should be okay.

If Panetta had been interested in logical relevance, though, he wouldn't have referred to the past at all. He would have focused on the present, and in the present, we spend more on our military than the rest of the world spends combined. And we spend more than five times more on our military than the second biggest military spender, which is China (numbers 3 and 4 are France and the UK, American allies).

But Panetta doesn't want you to know these numbers. If you did, you might laugh at him when he describes military cuts as meaning "doomsday" for America.

That's right. According to Panetta, returning to 2007 military spending levels, and still spending about as much as the rest of the world combined -- means doomsday for America. Shit, I'm laughing at him right now.

The rest of Panetta's Very Scary Letter is equally misleading. "You cannot buy three quarters of a ship or a building," he warns. Well, true, three quarters of a ship wouldn't be very useful. I mean, it would be like three quarters of a bullet, or something! But you could settle for, I don't know, say, nine out of the twelve new ships you wanted -- three quarters overall. Either Panetta is too stupid to know this, or he's hoping the public is too stupid to notice it for him.

The closest Panetta comes to anything specific about America's defense needs is to note that cuts would be bad for contractors. At which point, you start to get a feel for what really drives him and who he really represents.

When a spokesperson for a cause invents arguments as irrelevant and scaremongering as Panetta's, while ignoring relevant data and reasoned argument, you can safely conclude you are being bullshitted. It's long past time that Americans understood the military is, among other things, a special interest, and reacted to its lobbyists' Be Afraid! screeching accordingly.

UPDATE: Here's a tweet in response, from George Little, Secretary Panetta's spokesperson at the Pentagon:

@barryeisler Calling the US mil a special interest is insulting to those who risk their lives to protect your freedom to call them that.

Well, I could be wrong in suspecting an organization -- any organization -- with a trillion-dollar budget might have a few interests not necessarily consonant with those of the nation at large, but maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe the Pentagon is in fact composed of and run by men so selfless that they defy all rules of human nature and bureaucratic dynamics. Maybe criticizing the trillion-dollar military bureaucracy is the same as insulting individual soldiers. If so, criticizing the Pentagon would be bad form, and maybe even unpatriotic!

Or maybe Mr. Little came up with his clever little "how dare you insult the troops" dodge because he doesn't have the wherewithal to respond to any of my substantive arguments. In which case, Mr. Little, I must regretfully conclude that you're just as full of shit as your boss. I'm sure being the Pentagon Press Secretary and SecDef Spokesman has its perks, but wouldn't you rather have some integrity?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Guest Blogging

I need to get better about linking here when I'm blogging elsewhere. Here are a few recent guest posts:

First, on novelist J.A. Konrath's blog, on how to decide between a legacy publishing contract and self-publishing.

Next, at Writer Unboxed, on The Critical Aspects of Digital Publishing. [link fixed]

And today on Techdirt, I'm interviewed by Mike Masnick on Copyright, Piracy And Why SOPA/PIPA Are "Extremely Disturbing"

I should mention too that I'll be doing the keynote at the annual Writers Digest Conference in New York, January 20-22.

Finally, here are some of the highlights of my recent talk at Grub Street Writers in Boston, all about the digital revolution in publishing.

Barry Eisler, Publish It Forward Lecture Part 1 from Grub Street on Vimeo.

Barry Eisler, Publish It Forward Part 2 (Q&A) from Grub Street on Vimeo.

Barry Eisler, Publish It Forward Part 3 (Q&A) from Grub Street on Vimeo.

Monday, October 31, 2011

To Fly. To Serve. To Do The Absolute Minimum

Readers of HOTM know that as interested as I am in the branding of politicians, I'm also interested in the psychology and mechanics of branding generally. Which is why I was struck by an ad I saw recently for British Airways, which has decided to ditch it's current slogan, "The World's Favourite Airline," in favor of something it was using 90 years ago:

"To Fly. To Serve."

The ad I saw described the change this way: "It's not a slogan. It's a promise."

Well… let's be fair. It's actually both. And what makes this such a very poor slogan is precisely the minimalism of its promise. I mean, what does an airline absolutely have to do to be an airline? It has to fly customers. That's really it. It has to fly. It has to serve. If it doesn't do those things, it's not an airline. So it's no coincidence that every single airline in the history of the world has, at a bare minimum, flown. And served.

"So what?" you might ask. "It's true, isn't it? They fly and they serve. Just telling it like it is."

Yes, it is true, and alongside something like Fox's "Fair and Balanced," truth is much to be admired. There's also something to be said for under-promising and over-delivering. But a slogan, ideally, should do at least two things: (1) promise something more than the minimum customers already assume; and (2) promise something that distinguishes you from your competitors. Being memorable is also nice, so let's make memorable a #3.

Back in my Jersey days, I used to come across a radio news station called Ten-Ten WINS (1010 on the AM dial). Their slogan was, "You give us 22 minutes, we'll give you the world." That's a good slogan! Big promise, distinguishes you from the competition, and memorable. The British Airways equivalent would be, "Ten-Ten WINS… we tell you news."

So I hope it's now clear that AT&T, for example, shouldn't use a slogan like, "We let you talk on the phone." McDonald's should steer clear of, "We serve people hamburgers." The New York Times would probably be ill-served by, "We print news" (actually, "All the news that's fit to print" is a nice slogan -- big promise, distinguishing, and memorable, too. Not terribly accurate, IMO, but accuracy is a lot to ask of a corporation, and anyway I expect the Times' management believes it's true).

Now, none of this is terribly important, but the principles I discuss here are so fundamental and so obvious that sometimes I'm quietly in awe of not just at what these giant companies come up with, but also at the thought of what they must have invested in the exercise. How many employees and outside consultants, how many millions of dollars went into coming up with such a patently bad corporate slogan? I assume these companies understand how important branding is and how crucial a slogan can be to any branding effort. I assume that when they work to come up with a new corporate slogan, they bring their A game and their A dollars. And this is the best they can do?

I'm not sure if this qualifies as good news for British Airways, but they're hardly alone. Delta once thought it would be useful to promise customers, "Delta gets you there." In fact, one handy way of knowing if a corporate slogan is terrible is to ask of it, "Is anything else even possible? Delta leaves you stranded on the tarmac? Delta goes down in the ocean? Delta *doesn't* get you there?"

And look at MSNBC: "Lean Forward." Come on, what happens when you're leaning forward (or in any other direction)? Well, the first thing that happens is, you're not moving. You might even be in danger of falling, if you lean too far. So MSNBC paid millions of dollars to a bunch of branding consultants, who then came up with the equivalent of, "MSNBC. We're not going anywhere. And we might even fall down."

I think even MSNBC knows how weak this is, because, like those restroom electric hand dryers that come with their own propaganda ("This slow and noisy hand dryer is saving lots of paper!"), MSNBC wants you to know that, "To Lean Forward is to think bigger, listen closer, fight smarter, and act faster. To celebrate the best ideas no matter where they come from. To dare to dream of a nation that's better tomorrow than it is today."

Well, maybe that's what Lean Forward means to MSNBC, the executives of which have had lots of time and substantial motivation to convince themselves. But I think most people who come across the slogan will just imagine MSNBC leaning there, immobilized. And who even really cares in which direction you're leaning? I guess forward is minimally better than backward, because the latter is more tiring and more likely to make you lose your balance, but really, MSNBC… your identify, your value to your customers, it's all built on the fact that you lean?

Hey British Airways and MSNBC, if you're reading this: I know my shit and I work cheap (that's a promise, and also a slogan). Call me. And if anyone has examples of other particularly good or particularly bad corporate slogans, I'd be curious. Post 'em here -- thanks.

P.S. Forgot to mention earlier, for anyone interested in the question of why many authors fear a future Amazon publishing monopoly but are sanguine about the existing New York publishing monopoly, here's a guest post I did with novelist and blogger J.A. Konrath, The Bogeyman and The Axe Murderer.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

Today The Detachment comes out in paper, and I'm in New York briefly for some book stuff. Naturally, I spent the afternoon at OccupyWallStreet, a movement that is spreading incredibly fast. Here are some impressions.

First, the notion that the movement doesn't know or can't articulate what it wants is nonsense. As I think the photos in this post (I had trouble uploading the videos; will try again later) will make clear, the fundamental grievance that has motivated people to interrupt their lives and endure ridicule, discomfort, and attacks by the police, is their understanding that America's political processes have been captured by oligarchic interests, and that politicians serve not the people, but the powerful.

This is not a movement against capitalism; it is a movement against America's current version of capitalism, which we might loosely label with the oxymoron "crony capitalism," which, by definition, isn't capitalism at all.

I was impressed by the determination and organization I witnessed. There were people engaged primarily in occupying the park; people holding signs; people running services -- information, food, sanitation, trash disposal, medical. My sense was of a collection of citizens who had come to realize that America's political system is so broken, that our democracy has become so inverted and perverted, that they had to do something, had to do whatever they could, even if that something was just to deploy their bodies and their voices and to declare together, Enough.

Where will it all lead? I don't know. But I have a feeling that all such protests against inequality, corruption, and repression must initially seem doomed to failure. Who could have believed in 1980, when Solidarity was formed in Poland, that ten years later Lech Walesa would be president? Who would have predicted when Tahrir Square in Egypt was first occupied that Mubarak would soon be forced to step down? And I'll bet that even as Thomas Jefferson penned The Declaration of Independence, he had moments of, "What the hell am I doing? We've really got a chance against Britain?!"

It must always seem hopeless at the outset. Except sometimes it turns out not to be.

P.S. If you're around on Friday, October 21, come by the Palo Alto Four Seasons for the Detachment launch party, generously hosted by the Four Seasons with legendary local independent bookseller Kepler's Books. Come by at 6:00 pm for wine and light bites, after which, at 7:00, I'll say a few words about the book and take questions. I'll then sign books, which Kepler's will be selling on the premises (autographed copies make great gifts, you know… ;)). After the signing, I'm going to hit the bar -- and hope you'll join me! If you like gin, order a Purple Rain (it's not on the menu). Buy a book from Kepler's, and have dinner after at the wonderful hotel restaurant, Quattro -- what could be better?

Friday, October 21, 6:00 pm
Four Seasons Palo Alto
2050 University Avenue
East Palo Alto, CA 94303
(650) 566-1200

Update: Okay, I couldn't get the video to upload directly here, so posted it on YouTube and will now embed. Here you go:

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Beneficent, Benign Establishments

First, apologies for my long blogging hiatus. I made a number of significant decisions and changes in my writing business, then wrote two short stories, a political essay, and co-authored a (free) short book on what's going on in the publishing industry, then had to finish the new novel, The Detachment… all of which kept me from posting here as often as I'd like. I'll try to be more regular now, and to that end, I think I'll post more shorter pieces, in addition to the longer essays to which I seem naturally to gravitate. This post will be one of those shorter ones.

Last week, I gave a talk at my alma mater, Cornell Law. Before the talk got started, I was chatting with a few people, including a retired judge who likes my books and who asked me why I take such a dim view of establishments (he described himself as an establishmentarian). We didn't have time to talk about it much, so I thought I'd use the question, which is an interesting one, as the basis for this post.

For me, it comes down to this: who does the establishment serve?

If you're a member of the establishment (which I think is better understood as an oligarchy), naturally you'll believe it primarily serves society. But I believe establishments are like bureaucracies, and therefore subject to Jerry Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy, which suggests: any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.

In fact, there is even a related concept, known at the Iron Law of Oligarchy.

There might have been some period in the golden past when the American establishment primarily served the interests of the wider society (I doubt this, but am willing to concede for the sake of argument). Regardless, over time, the establishment has inevitably come primarily to serve its own interests, probably through the psychological mechanism of equating society's interests with its own. L'etat, c'est moi.

It's all about human nature. Having achieved, or having been handed, a position of power, profit, and privilege in society, people will naturally seek to preserve that position, even at the expense of society's other members. To argue otherwise requires a view of human nature for which I see scant evidence. And in the behavior of politicians, bankers, corporate media organs, corporations -- and particularly up close and personal in the business practices and articulated worldview of members of the New York publishing establishment -- I see overwhelming evidence in support of my less sanguine view.

I therefore look at Amerca's oligarchy -- yes, more politely and generously known in some quarters as America's establishment -- as primarily parasitical, not as primarily beneficial. And naturally, I try to reflect this view in my books.

P.S. One other thing that's been keeping me from blogging here is that I've been guest blogging elsewhere. Here's a new piece I did with novelist J.A. Konrath on his blog, debunking some foolish and pernicious thinking about self-publishing from a reasonably well known literary agent.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Today's The Day: John Rain Is Back

I'm delighted to announce that the digital and audio versions of the new Rain novel, The Detachment, are available now, exclusively through the Amazon Kindle Store and through Amazon's affiliates, Brilliance and Audible (I did the audio version, and you can listen to a sample here). The paper and CD audio versions will be available wherever books are sold on October 18 (and can be preordered now through Amazon). Tour dates—which will coincide with the paper release—will be up on my website soon. Here's more:

John Rain is back. And "the most charismatic assassin since James Bond" (San Francisco Chronicle) is up against his most formidable enemy yet: the nexus of political, military, media, and corporate factions known only as the Oligarchy.

When legendary black ops veteran Colonel Scott "Hort" Horton tracks Rain down in Tokyo, Rain can't resist the offer: a multi-million dollar payday for the "natural causes" demise of three ultra-high-profile targets who are dangerously close to launching a coup in America.

But the opposition on this job is going to be too much for even Rain to pull it off alone. He'll need a detachment of other deniable irregulars: his partner, the former Marine sniper, Dox. Ben Treven, a covert operator with ambivalent motives and conflicted loyalties. And Larison, a man with a hair trigger and a secret he'll kill to protect.

From the shadowy backstreets of Tokyo and Vienna, to the deceptive glitz and glamour of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and finally to a Washington, D.C. in a permanent state of war, these four lone-wolf killers will have to survive presidential hit teams, secret CIA prisons, and a national security state as obsessed with guarding its own secrets as it is with invading the privacy of the populace.

But first, they'll have to survive each other.

The Detachment is what fans of Eisler, "one of the most talented and literary writers in the thriller genre" (Chicago Sun-Times), have been waiting for: the worlds of the award-winning Rain series, and of the bestselling Fault Line and Inside Out, colliding in one explosive thriller as real as today's headlines and as frightening as tomorrow's.

Want to read Q&A on various aspects of the book, along with the first five chapters? I'm a guest today at five excellent blogs. Here's where to go:

Chapter 1 – Truthout: The politics of The Detachment
Chapter 2 – A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing: The book’s unusual path to publication
Chapter 3 – Buzz, Balls & Hype: The book’s image system
Chapter 4 – Jungle Red Writers: Combining the series worlds of Rain and Treven
Chapter 5 – A Newbie’s Guide to Writing: Publishing a book with Amazon

For more on digital books, please see the Digital FAQ on my website. There's also a program called Kindle for PC that will allow you to download the book from the Kindle Store and read it on your PC, a program called Kindle for Android that will allow you to download it from the Kindle Store and read it on your Android device, and a program called Kindle for Mac (available from Amazon and Apple's App Store) that will allow you to download it from the Kindle Store and read it on your Mac computer, iPad, or iPhone.

If you're wondering why the digital edition of The Detachment is available before the paper edition, the reason is that paper takes longer to prepare and ship (glue, boxes, trucks, warehouses) than digital. My goal, and Amazon's, is to get all editions to readers as quickly as possible, and because, by its nature, digital can be readied for publication more quickly, the digital edition of The Detachment is being released first. Syncing up the release of the digital and paper versions would mean sitting on the digital edition until October 18th, and that doesn't strike me as a fair or sensible approach. This way, all readers can get the edition they want as soon as it's ready.

Thanks for all your support, and I hope you enjoy reading The Detachment as much as I enjoyed writing it!


Update: Nook and other ePub reader users, the book was mistakenly DRMed. The problem is now fixed, and if you had a problem converting, please just follow the instructions below and you should be good to go. My apologies for the mistake and the inconvenience.

"All they need to do is delete the file from their local application/device (Kindle for the PC, Kindle for the Mac, etc) and then re-download the book from their Amazon account to get the DRM free version. If people have questions – they can call Amazon Kindle CS team at 866-321-8851. We posted an article about it so that our CS reps are aware of the situation and how to fix the problem."

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Ass Is A Poor Receptacle For The Head

Hi all, my new political essay, The Ass Is A Poor Receptacle For The Head: Why Democrats Suck At Communication, And How They Could Improve, is available now. If you read this blog (and I think that might be a fair assumption since you're reading this right now), you know I'm interested in language as it influences politics, and in politics as an exercise in branding and marketing. The Ass Is A Poor Receptacle is both primer and manifesto on these topics, and includes references from Shakespeare to Schwarzenegger and from Orwell to Animal House to illustrate its many points. Here's a bit more:

Regardless of what you think of their policies, the sad truth is that Democrats suck at selling their ideas to the public. In this hilarious and hard-hitting essay, best-selling novelist and political blogger Barry Eisler draws on his expertise in narrative, his CIA training in persuasion, his time as an international intellectual property lawyer, and his background in technology marketing to offer Democrats some sound advice on how to improve their communications strategy. Borrowing principles from judo and boxing; using examples from advertising, movies, plays, speeches, and debates; and offering case studies of actual policy rollout successes and disasters, Eisler encourages Democrats to force Republicans to fight on Democratic terms, to use Republicans' own moves against them, and to not just slip a punch, but to hammer their opponents into a rhetorical corner and knock them the hell out.

The Ass Is A Poor Receptacle is about 10,000 words, or about 50 pages in paper. You can download it to your Amazon Kindle, your B&N Nook, or via Smashwords directly to your computer as a PDF. There's also a program called Kindle for Mac, available from Amazon and Apple's App Store, that will allow you to download it from the Kindle store and read it on your Mac computer, iPad, or iPhone.

Thanks for reading, and please help spread the word to Democrats who might want to get their heads out, if only someone would show them how.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

PARIS IS A BITCH—A Rain/Delilah Short Story

Hi all, my new John Rain/Delilah short story, Paris Is A Bitch, is available now. It covers an important event that occurs sometime between the end of Requiem for an Assassin and the start of The Detachment, the new Rain book that'll be out this summer. You can download it to your Amazon Kindle, your B&N Nook, or via Smashwords directly to your computer as a PDF. There's also a program called Kindle for Mac, available from Amazon and Apple's App Store, that will allow you to download it from the Kindle store and read it on your Mac computer, iPad, or iPhone.

For most couples, a quiet dinner for two at Auberge de la Reine Blanche on the Ile Saint Louis would be just the thing to smooth out the complications in a romance. But for gorgeous Mossad operative Delilah and trying-to-retire contract killer John Rain, nothing is ever easy, and when Rain sees a crew of hard-looking men setting up outside the restaurant, he realizes someone has been bringing her work home with her. Is it a hit—or something even worse? When it comes to killing, business and pleasure are the most dangerous mix of all.

This short story is about 8500 words, or a little under 40 pages in paper. The download comes with the first three chapters of the new John Rain novel, The Detachment (available soon), plus an essay called Personal Safety Tips from Assassin John Rain, which includes information that will be at least as valuable to civilians as it has been to Rain.

Here's a collection of photos of locations that appear in the story. Tough research, I know. :)


Monday, April 11, 2011

2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake

Even as the aftershocks of the March 11 Touhoku quake continued to rock Japan, a group of people came together and determined to do something in response. The Wall Street Journal chronicled their efforts, and the result is a remarkable book, called "2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake." Recorded, written, and published in just over one week, and available as of this morning, it's a stunning collection of firsthand accounts, photographs, art, and essays (including an original by cyberpunk science fiction legend William Gibson), 100% of the proceeds of which go to the Japanese Red Cross and its critical work of aiding the quake's victims. I'm very proud to have contributed the foreword, which I'm posting here in hopes it will entice more people to get involved. Please, buy a copy of the book, share on Facebook, like Quakebook on Facebook, post something about it on your blog, follow Quakebook on Twitter, tweet about it with the hashtag #Quakebook-- whatever you can do to help get out the word and help a nation and people that desperately need it. Thank you.


For me, Tokyo was metropolitan love at first sight.

It was 1992, and the government sent me for a language homestay. I got off the Skyliner at Ueno Station from Narita and that was it, I was done for. I could try to tell you why -- the energy of the place, its strangeness, the feeling of method to the madness -- but really, you might as well try to explain your first crush, your first love, the attraction of a lifelong romance. Whatever you can explain in words won't quite be it. The real connection is always too deep, too elusive, too mysterious ever to be corralled by language. The words will never get it right.

Still, if you're in love and you're a writer, you have to try. You might even create a character, say, a half-Japanese, half-American assassin, to help you:

Tokyo is so vast, and can be so cruelly impersonal, that the succor provided by its occasional oasis is sweeter than that of any other place I've known. There is the quiet of shrines like Hikawa, inducing a somber sort of reflection that for me has always been the same pitch as the reverberation of a temple chime; the solace of tiny nomiya, neighborhood watering holes, with only two or perhaps four seats facing a bar less than half the length of a door, presided over by an ageless mama-san, who can be soothing or stern, depending on the needs of her customer, an arrangement that dispenses more comfort and understanding than any psychiatrist’s couch; the strangely anonymous camaraderie of yatai and tachinomi, the outdoor eating stalls that serve beer in large mugs and grilled food on skewers, stalls that sprout like wild mushrooms on dark corners and in the shadows of elevated train tracks, the laughter of their patrons diffusing into the night air like little pockets of light against the darkness without.


At first light, the whole of Shibuya feels like a giant sleeping off a hangover. You can still sense the merriment, the heedless laughter of the night before, you can hear it echoed in the strange silences and deserted spaces of the area’s twisting backstreets. The drunken voices of karaoke revelers, the unctuous pitches of the club touts, the secret whispers of lovers walking arm in arm, all are departed, but somehow, for just a few evanescent hours in the quiet of early morning, their shadows linger, like ghosts who refuse to believe the night has ended, that there are no more parties to attend.

If my books have been love letters to Japan, this one is more an SOS. I'm both proud and humbled to be part of it, to be in a position to reach others who love Japan and long for Japan so together we can give back some of what we've received, and do something to help Japan back to her feet.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Libya: America Has No Choice?

This post is in response to a post by Juan Cole, a blogger and expert on the Arab and Muslim worlds from whom I've learned a great deal and who I greatly respect, arguing that America has a moral obligation to assist its NATO allies in the war against Libya.

Hi Juan, I'm no expert on NATO and the UN, but Article 5 of the NATO Charter seems entirely clear:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

So Article 5 applies only to attacks in Europe and North America, which would seem to exclude events in North Africa. And even if we read the phrase, "to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area" as broadly as possible, it's hard to see how it could be stretched to an African country on the Mediterranean.

But I think your argument might find some support in Article 6, which provides:

For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack:

on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France (2), on the territory of or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer;

on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories or any other area in Europe in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force or the Mediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.

Again, I know little about the NATO Charter and am unfamiliar with other attempts to interpret it, but on its face, Article 6 seems to provide that if NATO forces are attacked in the Mediterranean, the attack will be deemed to be an Article 5 attack. That said, as a former lawyer, I'm struck by the sloppy drafting of Article 6. As drafted, it seems to have the effect of dramatically expanding the geographical ambit of Article 5, making me wonder why, if such an expansion was the intent of the drafters, they didn't just forthrightly provide for the proper geographical scope of the treaty in one place. Another drafting anomaly in Article 6 is the repetition of the notion that an armed attack on Europe means an armed attack on Europe. Finally, we should mindful of what NATO stands for: North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Legal documents are often construed without regard to their titles and headings, but still, it's fair to wonder why the drafters would have called the organization and the treaty NATO if they intended the alliance to apply equally to the Mediterranean. NAMTO would have worked as an acronym, too.

These anomalies are why I hesitate to opine too strongly in the absence of familiarity with something equivalent to case law (I couldn't find any, BTW). My guess is that the drafters intended that limiting phrase, "in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force" to apply not just to Europe, but to the Mediterranean and other areas mentioned in Article 6, too. Regardless, on its face, Article 6 does seem to provide support for the notion that if NATO forces are attacked in the Mediterranean, the alliance will treat such attacks as an attack against all, in which case each NATO party is obligated to assist the parties that have been attacked.

All that said, you wrote, "So my question is, does that decision not lay a moral obligation on the US to lend support to the effort of its allies?" As you can see from my attempts to parse the NATO Charter, I think the better question is, "Does that decision create a legal obligation for the United States?" Because, after all, if the NATO Council decided to pick a fight outside the treaty's ambit and then tried to invoke the treaty as a way of forcing America to join in that fight, I would argue that no, America certainly has no moral obligation to join in the fight, and I would only be concerned with whether America would be legally obligated to join. As a matter of common sense, it seems dubious that NATO could launch a war not authorized by the treaty and then invoke the treaty to force a member to join that war, but still, the Charter says what it says and regardless of common sense the document of course needs to be addressed.

You ask: Had Washington demurred, "would not the allies have had a legitimate grounds for absolute fury?" I think this is the wrong question. America shouldn't be pressured into war by fear of third party emotions. If America has a legal obligation to join, America should honor that obligation. If no such obligation exists, the potential emotional reaction in foreign capitals ought to be a matter of diplomacy, but ought not to be a basis for America's participation in a war.

You mention that NATO invoked Article 5 following the September 11 attacks. But this was entirely proper, as the territory of a member state had been attacked. Libya has attacked no member state, and your argument would seem to imply that when NATO acts properly in situation x, member states are therefore obligated to act improperly in situation y. Such a tit for tat interpretation of the treaty makes no sense, either legally or common sensically. Moreover, the treaty makes no mention of public support for or opposition to responses by member states, so the foreign public opposition you mention to NATO's assistance to America in Afghanistan again seems relevant only to matters of diplomacy, not to whether an alliance member is legally or even morally obligated to assist another alliance member.

Similarly, your concern that an American demurral would mean the end of NATO is a matter of diplomacy only. Why would America want to be part of an organization that could force America into a war just by threatening the organization's dissolution if America failed to join in? If America really wanted to stay out and believed it had no legal obligation to join in, presumably it could head off such a crisis by early diplomatic intervention. If it couldn't, it might be worth discussing the value of an organization that no longer has a Soviet Union to deter and that seeks to force America to participate in actions outside the ambit of the treaty America has signed.

Granted, Resolution 1973 authorizes UN member states to attack Libya. But I don't see how it follows that America or any other NATO member is then legally obligated to participate in a war launched pursuant to the UN's resolution. Resolution 1973 authorized military action in Libya; it did not require it. Allowing a UN authorization to act as a legal trigger for a NATO requirement would greatly expand the potential applicability of the treaty. France's and Britain's actions in Libya make sense to you, but their next ones might not, and you might regret the creation of a principle that winds up obligating America to participate in every UN-authorized war that a NATO member decides to engage in. I know I would.

You close by asking again whether America has a moral obligation to assist its NATO allies in Libya. Again, I respond by saying respectfully that this is the wrong question. The right question is, Is America legally obligated to assist? Though the ambiguities in Article 6 leave room for argument, on balance I would say that no, America has no such legal obligation, and that in the absence of a legal obligation to act under a treaty, there is no moral basis to act under a treaty. If it were otherwise, we could dispense with treaties entirely and choose our wars case by case on a purely "moral" basis.

With sincere respect,
Barry Eisler

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Lost Coast: A Larison Short Story

Since before I was born (at least that's how it seems), my friend, novelist Joe Konrath, has been urging me to write a short story. Just to get him to stop, I finally listened. And man, am I glad I did! The result is The Lost Coast, one of the darkest things I've ever written, and, I think, one of the best.

If you've read Inside Out, you know Larison, a twisted, off-the-reservation black ops soldier who has picked a fight with the entire US governing establishment. And if you know Larison, you're probably betting on him to win.

Well, now you can see him on his own, sometime before, or maybe after, the events of Inside Out. You don't need to have read the earlier book to enjoy The Lost Coast. It's a complete standalone. Here's the description:

For Larison, a man off the grid and on the run, the sleepy northern California town of Arcata, gateway to the state's fabled Lost Coast, seems like a perfect place to disappear for a while. But Arcata isn't nearly as sleepy as it seems, and when three locals decide Larison would make a perfect target for their twisted sport, Larison exacts a lifetime of vengeance in one explosive evening.

Warning: this story is intended for mature audiences, and contains depictions of sexual activity, though perhaps not in the way you're expecting. 6600 words. Includes an excerpt from the new John Rain novel, The Detachment (available soon), featuring Larison, Rain, Dox, Treven, and others. Also includes a fun interview with novelist J.A. Konrath.

What is that interview, you ask? I've decided to reprint it here. Joe is running it on his blog, too, and I expect he'll get a lot of interesting comments as always. I'll be answering questions there as well as here, so if you're curious about where The Lost Coast comes from, how it feeds into the new Rain novel, The Detachment (coming soon), or anything else, stop by Joe's blog and say hi.

Joe: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe The Lost Coast is your very first short story. Why haven’t you visited this form before?

Barry: Because you’ve never suggested it to me, you bastard.

Kidding, obviously — my reluctance has been despite your frequent blandishments, and I’m glad you finally got through to me. I think there were a number of factors. The thought of appearing in an anthology or magazine never really excited me that much, even though an anthology or magazine placement could be a good advertisement for a novel. And probably I was a little afraid to try my hand at the new form (though now that I have, I think I must have been crazy. Short stories are a blast to write). In the end, I think it was the combination of knowing I could reach the huge new audience digital publishing has made possible and make money doing it. Plus you just wore me down.

Joe: I really liked the Larison character in Inside Out. Though he’s one of the antagonists in that book, I wouldn’t actually label him a villain. He’s more of an anti-hero, sort of a darker, scarier version of John Rain. Why did you decide to write a short about him?

Barry: As usual, it wasn’t a conscious plan; more something influenced by my interests, travel, and reading habits. Anyone who reads my blog, Heart of the Matter, knows I’m passionate about equal rights for gays. At some point, I was reading something about gay-bashing, and I had this idea… what if a few of these twisted, self-loathing shitbags picked the absolutely wrongest guy in the world to jump outside a bar? That was the story idea that led to The Lost Coast.

Joe: The ending of Lost Coast is pretty ballsy (in more ways than one.) You could have gone a more conservative route, but you didn’t wimp out and shy away from what I feel is a laudable climax. Are you purposely inviting controversy? Was this the story you intended to tell from the onset?

Barry: I imagined it from the beginning as a pretty rough story — a little about redemption, a lot about revenge. But midway through it got darker than I’d originally envisioned. Thanks for saying I didn’t wimp out because for me, the story was being driven by Larison, who while being a fascinating guy is also a nasty piece of work. When I’m writing a character like Larison, there’s always a temptation to soften him a little to make him more palatable to more readers, but in the end I’ve always managed to resist that (misguided) impulse. For the story to come to life, you have to trust the character as you’ve conceived him and as he presents himself to you. For better or worse (I’d say better), that’s what I’ve done with Larison.

Joe: After this interview, there’s an excerpt from the upcoming seventh John Rain novel, The Detachment. This is also a sequel to Fault Line and Inside Out, featuring your hero Ben Treven. It also showcases Larison, Dox, and a few other characters from your past novels. Was it your intention all along to bring both of your series together?

Barry: I’m afraid that “all along” and related concepts will probably always elude me. Usually I get an idea for the next book while I’m working on the current one, and that’s what happened while I was working on Inside Out. I thought, “With what Hort’s up to, what he really needs is an off-the-books, totally deniable, awesomely capable natural causes specialist. So what has Rain been doing since Requiem for an Assassin? And how would Hort get to him? Through Treven and Larison, naturally… and the next thing I knew, I was working on The Detachment. It’s like the Dirty Dozen, but deadlier. Plus there’s sex.

Joe: Your sex scenes tend to err toward the aggressive side. That isn’t a question. It’s an understatement. The question is, why do you think the US is so repressed when it comes to sex in the media, especially homosexuality, and at the same time so tolerant of violence?

Barry: George Carlin had some typically wonderful insights on this subject in his book, Brain Droppings. When you look at not just our laws on drugs and prostitution, but the whole approach to those laws (unlike just about any other regulated area, drugs and prostitution are dealt with without any weighing of costs and benefits), it becomes obvious America has some hangups about pleasure. With regard to homosexuality specifically, some of the craziness is probably driven by self-hatred; some by the need for an Other to denigrate (Orwell was all over this); some just by inertia. As for the relative comfort with depictions of violence as opposed to sex, I’ve never understood that, either, because in fiction I obviously enjoy them both.

Joe: Will we be seeing more short stories from Barry Eisler?

Barry: Yes! Got a great idea for a Rain/Delilah short set in Paris in the period between the end of Requiem for an Assassin and the kickoff of The Detachment (the research, the research), and a Dox short, too.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Donald Rumsfeld, Defender of the Constitution (Really)

Cross-posted at the American Constitution Society.

Here's what I thought when I heard the Conservative Political Action Conference has decided to honor former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with something CPAC calls the "Defender of the Constitution Award."

As I imagine CPAC is aware, Rumsfeld is the man who signed the very first memo authorizing the torture techniques that later became infamous with the revelations of photos from Abu Ghraib prison. Philippe Sands wrote the definitive book on the subject; it's called "Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values." The topic is also thoroughly covered in the bipartisan report of the Senate Armed Services Committee, "Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody," which concluded:

The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.

I thought about how different things might be today if, instead of Rumsfeld, America had been blessed with a Defense Secretary who really was a defender of the Constitution, and who therefore would have refused to partake in its violation. Someone who valued the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, who understood that the Constitution elevates to the Supreme Law of the Land treaties like the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Certainly we'd be safer. Our standing in the world, and in our own eyes, would be undiminished. And of course the Constitution itself would be stronger, having been spared a withering assault.

I thought about people like Alberto Mora, who fought Rumsfeld's torture memos as the Navy's General Counsel, and Major General Antonio Taguba, who was forced to retire for his critical report on torture at Abu Ghraib, and Air Force interrogators like Major Matthew Alexander and Col. Steve Kleinman, who have fought heroically against torture (Alexander's most recent book, "Kill or Capture," comes out today). I thought again of the Constitution, and of the condition it might be in today if these men had won and Rumsfeld had lost.

And then I thought about what kind of person, in the face of all this, would choose to honor a key architect and enabler of America's torture regime as a "Defender of the Constitution." You'd have to be an unfortunate combination: partisan, cynical, intellectually empty. You'd have to perceive of the Constitution primarily as a cheap prop in a public relations campaign, and be willing to exploit it that way. You'd have to be ignorant of irony and oblivious to Orwell.

All of which is a pretty fair description of what today in America passes for conservatism. It's a movement that doesn't know the difference between a defense and a desecration, and celebrates them as one and the same.