Sunday, June 30, 2013

Help Me Select Cover Art

I'm looking at two cover art possibilities for my new book, In The Dragon's Lair. Check them out below. I'd really appreciate reader feedback on this: which one would you chose? Put your vote in a comment below. Thanks.

Cover Art 1

Cover Art 2

WIP: Chapter 2 of "In The Dragon's Lair."

Chapter Two

     They hadn’t even taken their seats before Duggan rounded on Morgan, his face reflecting more anxiety than both of the other men.
     “Dave,” he said. “I’ve been getting some disturbing news from my military contacts.”
     “Come on, Pat,” Larson said. “We should give him some background before springing it on him like that.”
     Dennis Larson had a political officer’s habit of prefacing every briefing with background information – ‘to provide nuance,’ he was fond of saying. Morgan personally preferred to get right to the point, and appreciated the army colonel’s bluntness, but he had to give moral support to Larson, a man with a somewhat fragile ego, who always seemed to be intimidated by Duggan, and therefore, overcompensated by correcting him at every opportunity. Morgan spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to stop what he thought was counterproductive behavior – so far, to no avail.
     “Dennis has a point, Pat,” he finally said, coming down on the side of backing up his number two. Duggan was, as usual, unruffled.
     “Yeah, I suppose so,” he said. “My old contacts have finally decided it’s okay to talk to me. In fact, since your meeting with Dragov, they’ve been downright garrulous. They’ve been telling me everything, a lot I really don’t want to know. Lately, though, I’ve been picking up some signs of nervousness among the more senior officers. Last night, at a reception hosted by the British attaché, a Daggy colonel finally told me why.”
     Morgan didn’t like the use of the term ‘Daggy’ to refer to their hosts, but the local employees in the embassy didn’t seem offended, so he didn’t make an issue of it. He never, though, used the term himself.
     “Okay, I’ll bite,” he said. “Why are they nervous? Is Dragov doing another one of his purges?”
     “No, nothing like that. He’s pretty much cleaned the upper ranks of anyone whose loyalty was the least bit doubtful. Lots of new farmers out in the hinterlands. No, this has to do with their neighbors, the russkies.  Seems they’re frontier units are reporting a buildup of Soviet forces near the western border crossing points.”
     “What kind of buildup?” Morgan asked.
     “Well; his exact words were, Russian forces massing near the border. Now, you and I know that Ivan’s always moving units around. Who knows why? Maybe they just like playing chess with military force. But, it seems a little far-fetched that they’d be planning a major move on a little back water like Dagastan. But, the guy was adamant; said he’s sure they’re planning to invade.”
     “Did he tell you what they’re doing about it?”
     That, for Morgan was a critical bit of information. If what Duggan was saying was true – hell, even if not true, the fact that a senior member of the local military was relating it to a foreigner – it would have to be reported to Washington, and the numb nut bureaucrats there, who had nothing better to do than ask endless, mind boggling questions, would immediately fire off cables asking for reams of supplementary information. By trying to answer as many of the questions in advance as possible, he knew he wouldn’t prevent the cables, but at least he would know he’d given them the best possible information, and wouldn’t feel too bad about ignoring the inevitable queries.
     Duggan was shaking his head. That wasn’t a good sign.
     “Well, Dave,” the colonel said. “I tried to wheedle that little piece of info out of him, but he just kept shrugging and saying there was nothing to be done; whatever the fuck that means.”
     “It means the Dagastan military couldn’t whip a gang of unruly girl scouts,” a deep voice said from behind Morgan. He turned and saw that the station chief, Carlton Raine, had entered the office. He’d probably breezed past Mary Sung before she could react. “Sorry for busting in unannounced, but I was on the line to Langley, and just broke free.”
     Morgan could almost swear that there was a faint smile on Raine’s brown face as he dropped his muscular frame into the empty chair at his left.
     “You know anything about what’s going on, Blood?” Morgan asked.  Blood was Raine’s nickname, but he would never tell anyone what it meant, leaving them to think it might be a reference to his race. Morgan suspected, though, that it was not.
     “Not a whole hell of a lot more than Pat here,” he said. “My contacts are being cagey, but when I talk to them, they’re antsy, so I know something’s up. They talk about worrying Soviet troop movements in the west, but I can’t get anything beyond that – yet.”
     Morgan looked at Larson and Jeffers. “You two have anything to add to that?” he asked.
     Larson looked at the young security officer.
     “Tell him what you told me, Pete,” he said.
     “Well, boss,” Jeffers said. “There’s probably nothing to it, but some of my security guards are telling me that people in their neighborhoods are stockpiling food.”
     “To me,” Larson said. “That’s a pretty good indicator that something’s brewing.”
     “Yeah, but what?” Morgan asked. “Hell, this place is on edge ninety percent of the time, and has been even antsier since the coup. Maybe there’s an indication of a poor crop year; you think of that?”
     Larson’s cheeks reddened.
     “Uh, well, not that hadn’t occurred to me. I’ll have Joe and his section check it out.” 
     Joseph Wade was a bean pole of an economics officer who ran the embassy’s economic reporting section. His ‘section’ consisted of himself, one junior officer, and a secretary he shared with Larson’s section. To Morgan, he resembled a shaven version of Abraham Lincoln, and had the work habits of an absent minded Thomas Edison, but the man was a whiz at crunching numbers and making sense out of arcane events.
     “Do that,” he said. “Not, mind you, that I don’t think your first hunch is right. It’s beginning to fit together into an ugly picture; but, before we run to Washington with a cable claiming the sky’s falling, I want a few pieces of sky to show them.”
     “You’re right, of course,” Larson said. “I guess I just got a little ahead of myself. So much has been happening lately, I didn’t stop to think that there might be other factors that need consideration.”
     Morgan laid a hand softly on the younger man’s arm.
     “No harm, no foul, Dennis,” he said gently. “We’re all under a little pressure at the moment, myself included. There’s no doubt we need to report this to Washington, and the sooner probably the better. But, we have to have our ducks in a row before we put anything in writing for the record – especially in light of recent events.”
     It had never been said, but Morgan knew in his gut that some in Washington were looking askance at him after Ellingsworth’s death. Pete Jeffers worried about being an RSO who’d lost an ambassador, but many in the bureaucracy viewed the DCM as the individual in the embassy who had the responsibility for the care and feeding of the ambassador. During all his time in the service, Morgan hadn’t heard of an ambassador being killed under similar circumstances. All that meant, though, was that the bureaucrats didn’t have a precedent. Damn, he thought, what a way to get your name in the history books. Getting your ambassador assassinated in a country that American wasn’t at war with. He had little doubt that what lay in store for him would be anything but pleasant.
     “Here’s what we do,” he said, shaking himself out of the reverie that threatened to become a blue funk. “Pat, throw lines out to all your contacts, at all levels. See what they have to say. Blood; I know your sources are close hold, but see if you can get anything from any of them. Pete, get your guards to snoop around their communities and see if they can get any details about what’s going on. Get all your reports to Dennis who’ll coordinate a summary and do the first draft of our cable to Washington.”
     Everyone nodded. Larson and Duggan took notes.
     “Let’s meet back here at sixteen hundred hours,” Morgan continued. He noticed a puzzled look on Larson’s face. “That’s four pm, Dennis. Sorry, I guess I lapsed back into a military mode of thinking and speaking. Anyway, we’ll meet then and see where we are on this.”
     For Morgan, the rest of the day moved like a fat man in the supermarket checkout line who has to stop and read all the tabloid headlines, just when the ice cream you bought has started to melt. He wasn’t a micromanager by nature, having learned in the army that the sure way to kill initiative and piss your subordinates off is to look over their shoulders while they’re trying to get done what you’ve told them to get done. In this case, though, he had to restrain himself from popping into Dennis Larson’s office to see what he’d learned. He forced himself to focus his mind on the other paperwork that seemed to copulate and reproduce in his inbox every night; initialing reports of vehicle usage, making marginal notes on a dense report on sorghum crop yields prepared by one of the youngsters in the economics section, and annotating one of the consular section’s reports with a ‘well done’ in his characteristic script.
     With the routine stuff out of the way, he turned his attention to the items he felt he not only had to read, but understand. Things like Pete Jeffers’ report of criminal activity, or information reports from the defense attaché or the station – information reports, because they didn’t become intelligence until the analysts in Washington vetted and checked them. Some of the reports were days old – having gone through other hands for ‘concurrence’ before reaching his desk. None of them contained anything of real interest. The report that would be interesting reading hadn’t been written yet, because they didn’t know enough.
     He ate his lunch at his desk; not because he had so much work to do, but because if he ate in the embassy cafeteria, he’d have to make small talk with members of the staff, and he didn’t feel like small talk. Mary Sung was kind enough to fetch him a ham sandwich and a coke from the cafeteria, which he wolfed down without even tasting.
     When four came, he was waiting at his office door. Carlton Raine, followed closely by Dennis Larson, came into the executive area precisely at four. A couple of minutes later, Duggan and Jeffers arrived. Morgan ushered them into his office.
     Just as they were settling themselves around the low table in the corner, Sung came in, a frown on her round, brown face.
     “Dave, Laura Pettigrew is here to see you,” she said. “I told her you were in an important meeting, but she insists that what she has is more important.”

     “A damn sight more important than a meeting of the good old boys,” the hefty consular chief said as she pushed past Sung and walked into Morgan’s office.

Tavis Talks with Larry King 06/27 by Tavis Smiley | Blog Talk Radio

Tavis Talks with Larry King 06/27 by Tavis Smiley | Blog Talk Radio

The Last Gunfighters

This is the artwork that I'm tentatively considering for the cover of a western/historical novel, The Last Gunfighters, which I'll do later this year.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Diplomatic Life: Back to the Future

During the academic year 1996-97, I was a student at the National War College. During that time the decision was made to open a consulate general in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – the mission in Hanoi had been upgraded to embassy status, and former congressman Douglas ‘Pete’ Peterson had been nominated to be the first ambassador. Jim Hall, an old friend of mine, was country director for the region, and he suggested I put my name in the hat for an assignment to HCMC, as it was called. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I applied for the post of consul general. I wasn’t sure of my chances because I was only an FS-1 at the time, and the position was graded at the Senior Foreign Service level.

Fortunately for me, Pete Peterson thought my candidacy was a good idea, and the late Mary Ryan, who was then assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, supported me as well, so I was chosen over two or three senior bidders.

After graduating from the War College, I spent six months doing refresher Vietnamese language training, and with a lot of effort managed to get a 3/3 rating. My previous training in the language had been way back in the 1970s when I was preparing for my first military tour in Vietnam, and in 1997, I was 52, so cramming language into my brain was no easy task.

I went to Vietnam by way of Bangkok, where I consulted with the embassy there, because before we opened our liaison office in Hanoi, reporting on Vietnam had been done by officers in Embassy Bangkok. Then, I flew to Hanoi, where I had meetings in the embassy, and had to present my consular credentials to the Foreign Ministry and get my letter of credence allowing me to perform consular duties.

I spent several days in Hanoi, which was surreal, given that I’d never been north of the DMZ before, and didn't know what to expect. It’s an attractive city, but at the time a little backward. The airport was like something out of Heart of Darkness, and having learned the southern dialect, the language I heard on the streets grated on my ears.

Finally, it was off to Saigon, as I still thought of the southern capital. Landing at Tan Son Nhut Airport in late afternoon was like déjà vu at first. The parking revetments that had been used by American and South Vietnamese jets during the war were still there, as were several of the old buildings I remembered from my last time there in 1973. The airport, thankfully, had been upgraded, and there were people from the consulate, which was under the interim control of my deputy, Deborah Bolton, to meet us.

Driving in from the airport, I was struck by how much the city had changed. New buildings were going up everywhere, but some of the old buildings, including the one on Pasteur Street that I worked in during my 68-89 tour with MAC-SOG. We spent the first 8 – 9 months in a cramped apartment that was a bit of a distance from the temporary office, which was set up in an old building that had served as a billeting office during the war. The old embassy was a few blocks away, and demolishing it to make way for construction of a new consulate general building was one of my first tasks. We took the old flag pole down, had it reconditioned and using one of the granite blast plates from the ground floor of the old building as a base, erected it on the site of the new building, complete with an appropriate plaque.

I was busy for the first few months, overseeing demolition of the old building and construction of the new one, hiring nearly 200 new local staff, and training 15 or 16 junior officers to do consular work, as well as orienting the mid-level staff who were doing political, economic, and refugee work. In addition, I had a staff from USIA, officers from Commerce and INS who worked in another part of town. Along with that, I had to get to know my colleagues in the foreign consular community, local government officials, and the community in my district, which spanned the southern two-thirds of the country from Hue in the north to Phu Quoc Island in the south. It was a hectic time, but in short order we were functioning as a full-fledged consular post.

Most of the country’s business is in the south, and HCMC had an active American Chamber of Commerce. I initiated a series of informal meetings with the business community immediately. We would have a happy hour, which was called ‘Meet Charlie,’ a play on my first name, and the nickname we gave the Viet Cong during the war. Everyone knew I’d served there during the war, and it was a topic of conversation at most of my first meetings, even with local officials, some of whom had been VC. The mayor of HCMC, for instance, had been a VC commander in the Mekong Delta, but this didn't stop us from becoming friends and golfing buddies. There was even a colonel in the army who ran one of the military’s commercial enterprises, who would occasionally play hooky work and play golf with us at a Wednesday afternoon outing the Singapore consul general and I organized. That event caused some heartburn for the embassy number two, who thought it was a waste of time, but the ambassador recognized that it was a great way to get around the official bureaucracy, so he told the deputy to back off.

I traveled throughout the district, visiting Hue, Can Tho, Kontum, Tay Ninh, Danang, Nha Trang, and just about every other major town and industrial area. Nike was contracting a lot of its shoe production to Korean and Taiwanese factories in the area, and when they had a labor dispute that caused some negative publicity in the US, I had a chance to work briefly with former UN ambassador Andrew Young to deal with the issue.

One of the people I had frequent contact with was the man who had commanded VC forces during the Tet ’68 assault on the embassy. He and I would have tea at his house once a month or so. When the new consulate was completed and inaugurated (twice: once by Senator, now secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Mary Ryan, and a second time by secretary of state Madeline Albright) I invited him for a visit. At the end of the tour of the new building, I took him to the back and showed him the vacant spot where the old embassy once stood, and said, “I managed to do what you couldn't  I took down the American embassy.” He found it hilarious.

The new building was a favorite spot in the city. Not just for the hundreds of visa applicants who lined up early every day on the sidewalk outside, but for groups that I gave guided tours to. Some security types in Washington objected, but I prevailed. It was one of the most effective public relations activities we did to gain public support, and even the local government thought it a good idea. No sensitive information was ever compromised, and the good will we garnered can’t be measured.

Probably the most exciting event of my entire tour was near the end, when something touched off an uprising of Montagnards in the Central Highlands. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, at the same time, we’d received a query from a Montagnard in the US concerning a relative he thought had been arrested in the Highlands, so we’d been in touch with officials there to determine if it was true or not. The government in Hanoi, ever paranoid about the Montagnards, put two and two together and came up with three – I, because of my wartime relationship with the Montagnards, must have somehow incited the unrest. The ambassador was called in by the foreign ministry, and I was called in to the local foreign affairs office, where I was accused of unfriendly conduct, to wit, I’d been asking questions they didn't think I should be asking. The ambassador pushed back, and so did I. I told my interlocutor that if there were questions they didn't want me to ask, they should provide me a list. Until then, I would continue to do the job I’d been sent to do, and which my letter of credence entitled me to do. At that point, the hapless official began lecturing me on the arrogance of Americans who try to tell other people how to run their country. Exasperated, I shot back, “You’re not high enough in the food chain to have a discussion on this subject with me,” and stormed out of the room. The junior officer I’d taken along with me to take notes said as we were driving back to the consulate general that she’d not learned that diplomatic technique in orientation. I hadn't either, but it seemed the appropriate response at the time. Fast forward a couple of months when I was preparing to depart, and the same official hosted my farewell dinner. He was as friendly as could be. Thus is the life of a diplomat of foreign ministry official. He’d done what he’d been instructed to do, and I reacted in a somewhat blunt, but perfectly understandable manner, and that was that.

It would take a book to cover every adventure I had during the three-plus years I served in Vietnam as a diplomat, but these were the highlights. The key thing I learned from that tour was that the world is a big place, with room for all shades of thought and ideologies, as long as we’re prepared to sit down and talk about our differences and emphasize our areas of agreement.

From Vietnam, I went on to the State Department’s Senior Seminar, a month before the game-changing events of September 11, 2001. In the next installment, I’ll talk about my assignment as deputy chief of mission in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and how even in the midst of war, progress can be made.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


001 by CharlesRay2010
001, a photo by CharlesRay2010 on Flickr.

Diplomatic Life: Proving Conventional Wisdom Wrong

I’m breaking my own schedule in this series of posts; first, by coming out early with a post instead of the approximately weekly schedule I posited at first, and secondly, taking a detour from the walk ‘back through time’ I planned at the outset. The reason for the first is, when an idea blossoms in my mind, if I don’t write about it right away, it bugs the crap out of me, making sleep difficult, until I put words on paper. I’m taking a side trip because the idea that has been bugging me spans several of my diplomatic assignments, and has been the source of one of my teaching points in the leadership and mentoring sessions I do; don’t allow conventional wisdom and urban legends to dictate the paths you take in your personal and professional life.

The idea which has been nagging me came about as I was doing research on the sequel to my novel, The White Dragons, a story of Foreign Service life and the bureaucracy and politics of Washington in 1975, just after the end of our presence in Vietnam. In The Dragon’s Lair, picks up where the first book left off, with the main characters dealing with the fallout of the events in the fictional country of Dagastan. Because it’s set mainly in Washington, I’ve had to do a lot of research on events and atmosphere of DC during the summer of 1975. During that time, I was still in the army, and stationed in Korea, so it’s been fascinating to look up things that I had only a nodding familiarity with, such as the construction of the Washington Metro system which began in 1969, with the first segment opening in 1976.

As I was researching, events in my early Foreign Service career, which began in 1982, kept popping into my mind, that seemed to bear on the dilemmas my characters were facing, and I’d like to share them, because they show how conventional wisdom can often be completely off base.

Let me first give a little background that will hopefully make my story a bit easier to follow. I retired from the army in 1982, at the rank of major with 20 years of service, including two tours in Vietnam, two tours as a unit commander, and several staff assignments, including unconventional warfare plans officer for the Combined Forces Command in Korea, and assistant public affairs officer for 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg at Ft. Bragg, NC. The grade they gave me when I entered the Foreign Service was FS-5, which is roughly equivalent to an army first lieutenant. So, I not only took a substantial pay cut, but was effectively demoted two grades.

The following is the Foreign Service rank breakdown and military equivalency at the time I entered in 1982:

FS-6  - 2d lieutenant
FS-5  - 1st lieutenant
FS-4 – captain
FS-3 – major
FS-2 – lieutenant colonel
FS-1 – colonel
FE-OC – brigadier general
FE-MC – major general
FE-CM – lieutenant general
FE-CA – general

The grades FS-6 to FS-4 were basically junior officer grades, FS-3 to FS-1 were the middle levels, with FS-1 later being treated as effectively a Senior Foreign Service Officer. The last four are Senior Foreign Service. An OC is counselor, MC is minister-counselor, CM is career minister, and CA is career ambassador. The latter two are restricted to only a very few individuals who have served long at some of the most senior positions in the service.

Now, back to my story. During my first tour, one of the mid-level officers at Guangzhou, China, where I was a consular officer, in a meeting with junior officers, remarked to me that coming in at my age (37 at the time) I was pretty much restricted in my promotion potential, and would likely end my career as an FS-2, or if I was extremely lucky, might snag a promotion to FS-1 just before retirement.

At the end of that tour, James Hall, who was the deputy consul general, had been promoted and selected to be the first consul general in Shenyang, China. He asked me to come to Shenyang to head the consular section despite the fact that I was not a consular officer (I’d come in as an administrative officer) and was not tenured. The job sounded fascinating, so I applied. There was a lot of push back. A senior administrative officer at the embassy in Beijing said that if I took the job, I’d risk not being tenured, and would, if I didn’t follow the traditional pattern of assignments for administrative officers, sabotage my future promotion chances. Thankfully, the ambassador and DCM supported my assignment, and James Hall did some magic with the consular chief’s job description, giving me administrative duties. The personnel system held its nose and let the assignment go through.

Now, you might be saying at this point that I was crazy. I’d knowingly taken an action that could not but have negative consequences for my future prospects. Of course, if you’ve read the first few posts in this series, you know I didn’t destroy my chances at promotion. I was tenured on time, and promoted administratively to FS-4 while in Shenyang, and to FS-3 just before being posted to Chiang Mai, Thailand for my one and only administrative assignment in a 30-year career. From Chiang Mai, I took a job that was graded one rank lower than my personal rank; another move that those who subscribe to conventional wisdom said was foolish. But, I did that job for two years, got promoted to FS-2, and went from there to be deputy chief of mission in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where I was promoted to FS-1.

I even made it into the senior ranks. Foreign Service Officers are eligible to retire at 50 with 20 years of service. I hit 50 with 13 years. In order to be promoted into the Senior Foreign Service, you have to apply for consideration; a process called ‘opening your window.’ If you’re not promoted after six boards, you’re retired. I opened my window when I turned 51, reckoning that if I didn’t make it, I’d retire at 20 as an FS-1, which is not a bad career when you think about it. But, to my surprise, in 1989, when I turned 54, I was promoted to FE-OC, and in 2005, while serving as diplomat-in-residence at the University of Houston I got my promotion to FE-MC. That was the year I turned 60, and with a mandatory retirement age of 65, I knew that was my last promotion. But, I wasn’t upset. After all, I’d proved beyond a doubt that conventional wisdom was out to lunch.

That has been one of my main teaching points to those I mentor – scores over the past fifteen years. You can’t let conventional wisdom dictate the direction you chose to take in life or your career. At the end of the day, you are the captain of your ship and the master of your own fate.

Stay tuned next week as I get back on track.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Graffiti Rock Producer, Michael Holman, Interviewed on The Combat Jack Show

Click on 'Play' to hear the interview, which begins at about the 42d minute mark in the show. If you wish, you can scroll to that part right away.

Work in Progress: Chapter 1 of 'In the Dragon's Lair'

The following first chapter from In the Dragon's Lair is part of a work that will be a sequel to The White Dragons. It picks up where the first book left off.

(Begin Excerpt)

Chapter One
Tuesday, June 24, 1975, Dagastan, Central Asia

A month had passed since the overthrow of Dimitri Kovasc, First Secretary of the Dagastan Communist Party and head of state, and his replacement by Milosevic Dragov, the deputy head of Dagastan’s security services. Merely a month since the chaotic events leading to the death of American ambassador Robert Ellingsworth, and David Morgan, Ellingsworth’s deputy chief of mission (DCM); the number two man in the embassy, was still charge d’affaires, a.i., an archaic French diplomatic term that essentially meant, the one in temporary charge of the embassy’s affairs until a suitable replacement could be found.
     Morgan didn’t find the delay in naming a new ambassador all that strange, as unsettling as it was to him personally. Washington had been caught sleeping by the rapid pace of events in Dagastan, and the system, slow at the best of times, had yet to find someone, prepare his nomination packet, and submit it to the U.S. Senate for the confirmation process, a process that could, depending on the individual, and the mood of Congress at the time, take months.
     It had been six months between the time Morgan’s first ambassador, Eloise Tarkington, departed Dagastan and Ellingsworth had arrived, despite his name having been put into the hat a full year before her planned departure. During that six month stint in charge, Morgan hadn’t made any significant changes in the way the embassy operated because Tarkington had been a people-oriented leader who always took into account the way her actions affected others. Despite his not putting his own personal stamp on the place during his time as boss, Morgan suspected that Ellingsworth had resented him just for being in charge. Challenging some of the man’s more egregious traits, as Morgan had done on one or two occasions, had only made matters worse.
     The deterioration of their relationship culminated in the unfortunate incident when Ellingsworth had invited Morgan to a late-night meeting in a seedy part of Dagastan’s capital city, Kazbektun, where they’d been ambushed, and Ellingsworth had been killed by a stray bullet. Morgan couldn’t prove anything, but he and the embassy Regional Security Officer (RSO) Pete Jeffers had been convinced that Ellingsworth had arranged the ambush to get rid of them because they were too close to discovering what he’d been up to in his secretive meetings with Milosevic Dragov, former deputy head of Dagastan’s security services, and now the country’s leader after he’d led a coup that deposed his former boss, Dmitri Kovasc, the former First Secretary of the Central Committee of Dagastan’s Communist Party.
     Morgan hadn’t communicated his suspicions to Washington, and he’d convinced Jeffers to hold off as well. In the first place, they had no proof. Secondly, he didn’t want to smear the name of a Foreign Service colleague without absolute proof of his guilt.
     Unlike his first time at the helm, this time, Morgan had made some immediate changes. For starters, his weekly country team meetings, now held every Monday morning at eight sharp, started on time, because he didn’t keep people waiting. He also sat at the chair nearest the door, rather than parading the length of the room as Ellingsworth had done; nor did he insist that everyone stand when he entered the room. More often than not, he’d already be in the conference room waiting for the staff when they arrived.  He also now included the RSO in all country team meetings, and from time to time, had one of the junior officers from other sections or agencies attend the meetings to act as a note taker. He felt that this was a valuable way to make them feel like an important of the mission’s operations, and gave them a sense of what it would be like as they advanced in grade in the service.
     He’d designated the political counselor, Dennis Larson, the acting DCM. Larson had moved his number two, a young grade three officer named Joseph Moon, up to be interim head of the political section.
     Country team meetings were now livelier; not rowdy, but people no longer felt constrained as they had under Ellingsworth’s dictatorial hand. Morgan let the heads of section speak first, only interjecting to ask questions if he didn’t fully understand something, and said very little at the end beyond brief instructions for the coming week, or synopses of news he’d heard from Washington through his private channels.
     The mood in the embassy was definitely better. So, why, David Morgan wondered, as he sat alone in his dining room picking at the watery fried eggs, undercooked hash browns, and almost burned beyond recognition toast that his cook had placed in front of him, was he worried? He worried so much he had trouble falling asleep at night, waking up in the morning feeling like someone had stuck bits of sandpaper to his eyeballs, with a dry throat, and the beginning of an ache somewhere between his chest and his stomach – he could never tell which.
     Part of it, he knew, was the uncertainty of Dagastan’s political situation. Dragov’s people had moved quickly to take control of most of what passed for strategic points in the poor, landlocked country; the broadcast stations, the main military bases, and of course, the national bank. There’d been a total clamp down on information during the first three days. Embassy officials were hearing unsubstantiated rumors of certain ‘enemies’ of the new regime meeting untimely ends in basement cells or in remote villages to which foreigners were seldom welcome. Morgan had sought a meeting with Milosevic immediately after the coup, but hadn’t learned anything that helped him predict in which direction the country would eventually go.
     He did discover that winning Milosevic to the U.S. side, and somewhat away from the Soviet orbit in which the country had been since before World War II, had been the excuse Ellingsworth had used for his highly irregular clandestine meetings with the man. Whatever he’d achieved, unfortunately, had died with him. Milosevic wasn’t opening up to Morgan or anyone else in the American embassy.
     At first, Washington’s silence was deafening. No one in the embassy could understand why they weren’t being bombarded with queries from the various offices, bureaus, and agencies in the capital that all think themselves primus inter pares when it comes to where they stand in line to get their inane queries responded to. It didn’t take Morgan long, however, to understand.
     Just fifty-five days earlier, the last helicopter had lifted off from the embassy grounds in Saigon, ending the American presence in that country. Saigon’s surrender to North Vietnamese forces that poured unopposed into the city had sent shock waves through official Washington. Even those members of Congress who had voted for cutting off funds for prosecuting the war were among those looking for someone to blame for its loss. That event alone, he knew, would have had the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department pretty busy. But, it wasn’t the only crisis or semi-crisis affecting a city that produced nothing really useful, just reams of laws, regulations and policies that people in the field had to try and make sense of. In mid-April, the Soviets had helped the Indians launch their first satellite, which had gotten the Pakistanis all spun up, and since Pakistan was Washington’s main ally in that region, that was probably occupying dozens of analysts and desk officers. Domestically, the city was still reeling from the Watergate scandal. Several senior members of the Nixon administration had been convicted of a number of crimes, including a stupidly conducted break-in of the Democratic Party offices in the Watergate tower three years earlier. Nixon had himself resigned as president on August 9, 1974, putting his vice president, Gerald Ford in office to serve out the remainder of his two and a half year term. In its two hundred year history, with the Teapot Dome Scandal and all the other misbehavior the country had seen in its politicians, Tricky Dick became the first president in American history to resign from office.
     No, Morgan knew; it would take something cataclysmic to refocus Washington’s attention on a fourth-rate country in a third-rate part of the world; a country that didn’t even have nuclear weapons.
     He was still worrying, and kicking himself for it, during the ride from his residence, on a hill in a rather nice part of town – that is, if any part of a town dug out of the reddish brown loess of a plain that grew stunted corn and shaggy sheep could be called nice. At least, it didn’t have the mud shanties occupied by rural peasants come to the city seeking their fortune only to find that, not only was there no fortune, but they were without the means to return to the countryside, that took up so much space in other parts of Kazbektun. His driver, who had taken a defensive driving course run by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, prided himself on varying his route every day, but always apologized profusely whenever the route took Morgan through areas of transients.
     “Am sorry, boss,” he would say. “Is too many peoples like this come to city now.”
     Every time he did it, Morgan would wave it off. He’d served in enough third world countries to no longer be affected by such sights.
     Achmed pulled him up to his usual place, at the front entrance of the embassy, where he got out and went through the front door like all the other employees, and every visitor, through security and past Post One, where a Marine resplendent in his dress uniform saluted him and said a cheery, “Morning, sir.” He always returned the salute. There was a special entrance in the back of the embassy that he could use, but he preferred letting people see him come to work.
     He was just about to take the stairs to his office when he noticed Laura Pettigrew rush out to the front entry area, look around, shake her head, and return to the consular section, which was to the right of the main entrance foyer. She had a harried look on her face. His curiosity aroused, Morgan decided to pay a visit to the consular section before going to his office, where there would be nothing more interesting than the boring stack of overnight cables.
     When he entered the section through the door reserved for employees, he saw Pettigrew, her round face red, and her feathery brown hair looking ruffled, talking to one of the four junior officers assigned to her section. Her normal doleful look was, today, one of frustration. As Morgan approached, she pointed toward the bank of windows where the other three vice consuls were busy interviewing visa applicants, and the harried looking young man rushed off to the nearest vacant window. She turned to Morgan.
     “Morning, boss,” she said. “To what do we owe the honor of your presence so early this fine morning?”
     Morgan chuckled. Pettigrew’s soulful brown eyes were always moist, as if she was about to cry at any instant; but, he knew that she was as tough as a Samurai’s blade and as dangerous to tangle with as barbed wire. If she was harried, something was amiss.
     “Just saw you rushing around like the proverbial headless chicken,” he said. “So, I thought I’d drop in and see what’s tough enough to flummox the unflummoxable Laura Pettigrew.”
     Her eyes went wide at the word ‘unflummoxable,’ which he’d just made up on the spot.
     “Uh, yeah . . . well, if you look at the waiting room, you’ll see what’s flummoxing me. We have nearly twice our normal number of visa applicants today. Calvin, there was interviewing at his usual pace; about as fast as a beached whale; so I had to give him a little verbal stimulation to get him to move ‘em through faster.”
     “What’s causing such an upsurge in applications?”
     She drew herself up to her full height, which was an inch short of Morgan’s height, but the bulk of her body made her seem taller. An exasperated look creased her face.
     “I’ve been kind of busy just trying to clear the waiting room and process them all,” she said. “Of course, if you really must know, I’ll have the officers ask. You know, one other thing that’s strange; we have a lot more business people applying than usual too. I can’t imagine what a business in the states is attracting so many Dagastani businessmen right now.”
     “That is strange,” Morgan said. “Look, don’t let it get in the way of getting the interviews done, but if you can let me know by the end of the day what’s causing the rush, I’d appreciate it.”
     “Will do. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’d better pitch in and help with the interviews, or we’ll be here until midnight.”
     Morgan recognized the tactful – bordering on blunt – dismissal. He smiled and turned on his heel, heading back to the stairwell and his office.
     When he entered the executive suite, the first thing he saw was the empty desk where the ambassador’s secretary normally sat. Vera Cotton, the Dragon Lady, who had been Ellingsworth’s secretary, had packed and departed for the United States two days after his body was sent back under a ceremonial escort consisting of four of the marines from the security guard detachment and Montgomery Cornelius, the embassy’s administrative officer. The door to the ambassador’s office, which her desk effectively blocked, was closed. Morgan had had both her desk and the office thoroughly cleaned of personal effects, and checked by Pete Jeffers, the regional security officer (RSO) for any classified or sensitive material.
     His secretary, the diminutive, but utterly efficient, Mary Sung, sat at her usual desk. Morgan had decided against moving to the ambassador’s office. On the one hand, he didn’t want the hassle of moving his gear, and on the other, when a new ambassador was selected, he didn’t want the man or woman to arrive and having to move back to his office. Besides, he thought, he didn’t need to get off on the wrong foot with the new boss.
     Sung looked up as he approached, smiling slightly.
     “Morning, Dave,” she said. “You have visitors.”
     It was then that he noticed the three men sitting on the chairs just outside the door to his office. Dennis Larson, his acting DCM, recently-promoted Colonel Patrick Duggan, the Defense Attaché, and Pete Jeffers, the RSO, sat on the edge of the chairs, their faces a study in collective concern.

     Shit, Morgan thought, looks like my day is going to go from boringly bad to immeasurably worse. “Okay, guys, let’s go into my office.”

Sunday, June 23, 2013

It doesn't have to fit as long as I like it

The Daily Post at WordPress.Com does a series of daily prompts to give us bloggers fuel for our creative fires. These prompts serve as water to prime our writing prompts. I read them with interest, but have never actually used one before. And then, along came Daily Prompt: Island of Misfit Posts, and I couldn't resist. I mean, something that doesn't 'fit' my blog? You've got to be kidding.

Regular readers are probably chuckling by now. Because they know that nothing and everything fits this blog. I take the title 'Free flow of ideas is the cornerstone of democracy' seriously. A free flow of ideas means that all ideas should be free to flow - right? right!

Okay, so what's that post that I've been dying to write, but doesn't fit? Well, you've all heard of the movie, 'Driving Miss Daisy," right? Well, my post is driving related, and I call it 'Driving Me Crazy.' The reason it doesn't fit is that it's aimed at one person, and I usually address ideas and principles rather than individuals. But, this particular situation gnaws at my mind from time to time, and I just have to write about it to relieve the pressure, so here goes.

My wife is a meticulous, fussy driver. Even when she's not behind the wheel. In fact, especially when she's not behind the wheel. She's the epitome of a backseat driver. No, she's beyond that. She's backseat driver, anal retentive, and micro-manager all rolled into one. Let me give you a few anecdotal examples.

We're driving along, heading to the subway station not far from our house, and the exit ramp is coming up in about two miles. Now, I drift into the right lane as soon as it's clear. I do this every time, and every time she carps, "Why not wait until you're there to change lanes?" Now, she knows the answer to this. I hate it when people make sudden, drastic lane changes at the last minute, cutting in front of you to make their right turn from the left lane because they stayed over there until they were right on top of it.

Another thing she does that drives me crazy. I'm not a speed demon. I tend to drive around the speed limit, or five mph over. But, I don't like to impede traffic, so I go with the prevailing flow of traffic, especially on the expressways like the Beltway or I-270. I'm doing this and about every other time, she starts yelling in my ear that I'm going too fast. I'm doing 70 and cars are zipping past me like I'm parked, and I'm going to fast? Give me a break.

I could give you more stories - dozens more - but, I think you get the picture. To all you passengers out there who're tempted to give instructions to the driver of the car - please don't. It's annoying. It's distracting. And, you're driving the poor schmuck crazy.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Diplomatic Life: I Get Paid to Make Decisions, Not Wait for Instructions

On the day after Christmas, 2002, I arrived in Cambodia to take up my post as ambassador. My wife and I had spent Christmas Day in Bangkok, walking the streets we remembered so well from our time in Thailand back in the 1980s, and having khao soi, which is fragrant curried noodle soup, popular in the north, for our Christmas dinner.
The road to Phnom Penh had been long, and not without a few speed bumps. I was nominated in the summer of 2001 when I returned to the US from Vietnam to attend the Senior Seminar. The incumbent was due to leave in the summer of 2002, so things should have worked out well. Things never work the way they’re supposed to work. Things apparently were not going well in Cambodia, because I was told I might not be able to finish my training, and to be prepared to go as early as December 2001. Well, that didn’t happen, but then in the spring of ’02, the incumbent was suddenly withdrawn, and my confirmation process went into high gear. High gear, that is, until it ran into the Cuisinart of the Senate’s Old Boy Club Rules.
My nomination was put on hold for a while by the delegation from North Dakota; not because of me, but because they were trying to arm twist the State Department to arm twist the Canadians to let the state drain a place called Devil’s Lake into Canada. The Canadians, of course, didn’t want our polluted lake water. That went on for a while – I never knew how it worked out, but the hold was lifted, and we were off to the races again. Then – another hold, this time aimed at me and the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, because some senator was upset with the Immigration Service’s handling of Cambodian and other Southeast Asian adoptions. Again, a few weeks of sitting around waiting for the other shoe to fall, a situation made worse because my mother died of a stroke in September that year, so she never got to see me sworn as an ambassador.
Anyway, things finally sorted themselves out, I had my hearing; chaired by John Kerry, our current secretary of state, and I was sworn by Colin Powell, who was secretary, in early December. We had to pack our stuff in weather that was so cold my feet and hands were numb for days.
So, we arrived in Cambodia, and spent the next three-plus years trying to make sense out of things. They had elections scheduled, and that, of course, had everyone in Washington excited. Some felt that after only having had three elections in their entire history, they should be able to do it perfectly. This view coming on the heels of the US elections of 2000. Remember the hanging chads. I just smiled through most of my briefings. During my hearing, when I was asked if I was willing to twist a few arms when I got there, my response was ‘yes, but first I have to be permitted to take their hand.’ That quip got a laugh.
My first few months weren’t all that funny, though. Presented my credentials to the late King Norodom Sihanouk shortly after arrival. He and I hit it off immediately, and I had an audience with him almost every month. Sometimes we’d just sit and he’d talk about people he knew in the Nonaligned Movement. It was like World History 101. He also had these dinners for the diplomatic corps that started at seven in the evening and stopped around four the next morning. Dining, drinking, dancing, and of course singing. The last one, which he told me was actually his farewell dinner for my wife and me, I did an impromptu set with his brother’s band. I didn’t know there was a Japanese reporter present until the following week an article in a Japanese paper describing the ‘crooning’ American ambassador appeared. It was fun, though.
Six weeks after I arrived, in response to a perceived slight in a Thai TV show, Cambodian students and others in Phnom Penh rioted, burning the Thai embassy and Thai-owned businesses. We had a tense few weeks after that.
The elections happened. There was a little violence, but overall, it went well. The US monitoring delegation was headed by Christie Todd Whitman, former New Jersey governor. She said it reminded her a lot of New Jersey elections. I didn’t press her on what that meant.
The most significant thing I did during my entire time though was quietly done, out of the limelight. I discovered during my first year that an Indonesian-based terrorist group was looking at the American and British embassies for a bombing attack. In fact, the aforementioned riots was the only thing that kept it from happening. Unfortunately, for a lot of reasons, few of which made sense, we had no relations with the military or police, so we were deaf and blind to such things.
I worked with the military command in Hawaii, which covers the entire Pacific region, and we decided that the policy was flawed. On one of my trips back to Washington, I suggested to the State Department that the policy should be reviewed, and was told to wait because there was a clerk of a congressional committee who might not like us talking about such things. I was shocked – sort of – at such timidity, but agreed to wait. Well, I waited for almost a year, and when I couldn’t get the bureaucrats to move, I exercised my authority as the president’s representative and sent a message to the secretary of defense recommending a policy review. I know the drill, so I sent information copies of my message to the appropriate senior people at the State Department. The bureaucrats at the bottom of the food chain, though, howled like a dog that’s been splashed with hot water. Took the deputy secretary himself to calm them down, and remind them that I was paid to make decisions, not wait for instructions. The policy was reviewed, and it was decided it did need changing, and surprise, surprise, the congressional clerk thought the change was a good idea. No one had the guts to approach him on it; they just preemptively capitulated rather than confront the issue.
Needless to say, among a few in the system, I wasn’t the most popular person. Always making trouble and ‘doing’ things.

Heck, I had a great time. We’ll keep going back in time in the next post; I’ll briefly talk about the Senior Seminar, but mainly I’ll talk about my three years as the first US Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, a city I knew as Saigon when I was there during the war.

Until You Walk the Path, You Won't Know Where it Goes

Here's Theresa's radio interview of me for those who missed it live:

Listen to internet radio with Theresa Chaze on BlogTalkRadio

Until You Walk the Path, You Won't Know Where it Goes 06/22 by Theresa Chaze | Blog Talk Radio

Until You Walk the Path, You Won't Know Where it Goes 06/22 by Theresa Chaze | Blog Talk Radio

Friday, June 21, 2013

Video Promo for "Things I Learned From My Grandmother About Leadership and Life"

Interview on "Until You Walk the Path You Don't Know Where it Goes"

On June 22, I'll be interviewed by Theresa Chaze on her BlogTalk radio show, "Until You Walk the Path You Don't Know Where it Goes." We'll be talking about my recent books, life since I retired from government service, and my writing habits. Theresa's shows are always fun and interesting - and, I'm not just saying that because I'm the subject - so you should tune in.

Check this link: for information on broadcast time and don't forget to set your watch.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Diplomatic Life: Back to School

When I left my position as ambassador to Cambodia in 2005, I was being considered for the post of ambassador to East Timor. Unfortunately, the political appointee who had the job had other ideas – some of which might have been related to not caring a whole lot for me being the one to replace him, but that’s another story – and he put pressure on to stay. The State Department, never one not to run from a Washington bureaucratic fight, dropped me like three-day-old fish wrapped in toilet tissue, and offered me the position of diplomat-in-residence. Now, to many people, this might seem like a place to dump people who can’t get other jobs, but the DIRs as they’re called, recruit, talk to average Americans about foreign affairs, and mentor people applying to come into the Foreign Service. They start the indoctrination process, Jack, and that’s important. I’d always wanted to do this, so I jumped at the chance.
I chose University of Houston, because I grew up 190 miles north of Houston and hadn’t lived in Texas since I left in 1962 and joined the army.
The more I learned about my new job, the more I liked it. For instance, my exact duties were a matter for me to negotiate with my host department at the university. Some DIRs do a full teaching load, some part time. In my case, the History Department at UH didn’t have any international relations classes for me to teach, so other than making myself available as a guest speaker for the professors, I pretty much scheduled my own day.
I did a lot of walking around campus, introducing myself to anyone and everyone. Did an interview on campus radio and for the campus newspaper. Had office hours in the afternoon, where students could drop in and chat about careers. I also did job fairs all over south Texas, spoke to local civic groups like the World Affairs Council, interacted with the large foreign consular corps in Houston – some 80 establishments, second to New York, and spoke at secondary schools in the region. I also worked with a state-federal task force on human trafficking, which was interesting and sobering at the same time. Learning, for instance, that thousands of underage girls from areas affected by Hurricane Katrina were on the streets of major Texas cities, forced to engage in prostitution, is a hard pill to swallow.
Some of my greatest times were speaking to young people. Once, the principal of a catholic high school asked me to speak to a group of ninth graders about international relations, but in a way that they could understand and relate to. I was at something of a loss until I noticed the sneakers a couple of the kids were wearing, and I went off on a long speech about how the components of those shoes come from all over the world, are put together by Vietnamese workers in a factory brought to Vietnam from China, under the supervision of Korean managers. On and on, etc. It became my ‘Sneaker Diplomacy’ lecture, which I was asked to deliver to even college students. I even once had to stand in for the Secretary of State, who had been asked to speak to a group in Houston, but couldn’t make it – so I was sent instead.
My wife and I drove through New Orleans on our way to Houston, a few weeks before Katrina, but we were in Houston for Hurricane Rita a few months later. It was her first hurricane. I decided we were better off staying in the city than getting out on the overcrowded roads. So, of course, I was designated the senior federal official in the city for emergency relief coordination. I had no communication, and couldn’t even get around, but orders are orders, so I used our hand phones to do my calling. I was so tired, I slept through Rita’s landfall, some sixty miles east of us. The trees around our apartment didn’t even lose any leaves.

It wasn’t a full year – just an academic year. We went in August and left, going back to DC, in June, but it was fun, fun, fun.

Courthouse News Service

Courthouse News Service

Saturday, June 15, 2013

New Mystery Now Available

When Elwood Tucker, a collector for mob boss Seamus O'Grady's loan sharking operation allows his sentiments to cut a customer a break, he's targeted for death. He goes to Al Pennyback for help. Al is reluctant until he learns that O'Grady exploits young girls for prostitution. He get's flaming mad, though, when O'Grady kidnaps his assistant, Heather in order to put pressure on him. Now, it's personal. Al teams up with retired CIA agent Carlton Raine and the war is on.

The newest Al Pennyback mystery, Kiss of Death, is now available in paperback.

For those who like e-Books, the Kindle version will be available in a few days. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 14, 2013


RICH MEYER: REVIEWS AND RAMBLINGS: Kneel Before Zon!: One of the new big things that a lot of the fear-mongers have focused up lately is the fact that Amazon, on their forums and in e-mails, ha...

Get "The White Dragons" Free for Your Kindle!

Now that the hot weather is here, it's time for a new free e-Book that's also HOT! Get The White Dragons, a novel of international intrigue, free for Kindle, June 17 - 20!

I'm an Artist, Not an Artisan

Paint Example
Paint Example (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Paint since 1978
Paint since 1978 (Photo credit: dogwelder)
Supply (economics)
Supply (economics) (Photo credits:
I have a neighbor who likes to comment wryly from time to time about the fact that, unlike most of the other men in my suburban neighborhood, I'm never seen tinkering around the yard or garage, building or repairing things, spot painting siding, or any of the other myriad DIY projects the suburban male seems addicted to. My wife gardens and spot paints, and now and then even washes the car when she gets to it before I take it to the car wash.

Now, there's a reason for this that my neighbor doesn't understand. First, I worked for the US government for decades, and most of my jobs required extensive travel. After completing a long plane flight, the last thing I wanted to do was mow the lawn. I finally got the wife to agree to hiring a lawn service. I do trim the hedges, walk the dog, rake leaves in autumn, and take out the trash and recycling. When my wife spot paints, I hold the ladder for her. That's our division of labor, worked out over many years because of my travel schedule - and, even though I'm retired now, my speaking engagements and consulting has me traveling almost as much as before, and I'm in to full time writing, which takes a lot of time. It was also worked out, though, because of our personalities.

My wife is a perfectionist. If I spot paint, and the paint on an edge is off by an eighth of an inch, it drives her crazy. I paint, watercolors, acrylics, oils, etc., and the occasional accidental drip of paint results in a better picture. Not so when you're painting a window frame. I used to garden, but again, her perfectionism caused me to give it up. I once planted grape vines near the back deck. Tended the damn things for years until they were finally bearing fruit. One day while I was at work, she decided she didn't like them where they were, so she dug them up and moved them. They died. That was the end of my gardening. She's not being mean either. She once planted a little herb garden and tended it faithfully. When it threatened the health of her pepper plants, though, she uprooted every one of those suckers. She walks around the yard picking up every stray leaf because they offend her sense of order.

So, I'm an artist, not a craftsman or do-it-yourselfer; so, sue me. That's just the way it is. My wife, on the other hand, is definitely the craftsperson type. I once got her to take up painting. She got the base layer of a painting of a vase of flowers done, and then asked me to paint in the flowers and details of the vase. That's not art, it's a craft project.

Other than the jobs I mentioned above, I hire professionals to do work around my house. They need the work, and they know what they're doing. It's cheaper to hire them in the first place than it is to hire them to fix the mess I'd make.

So, to my fellow male suburbanites: sorry, but I won't be joining you in your weekend trek to Home Depot(TM), or any other hardware or building supply store. I am just not mechanically inclined. I know the difference between a flathead and a Phillips screwdriver, but it doesn't mean I know, or care, how to use them properly. Hell, I know the difference between a Formula One racer and a Prius, but you won't catch me driving either. If you need me, I'll be in my upstairs office, working away on my next novel.
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