Saturday, February 17, 2018
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Saturday, February 10, 2018
At the start, everyone's there, but soon my daughter and Tommy leave,
and we get down to serious business.
Saturday, February 3, 2018
Saturday, January 20, 2018
Zimbabwe's Mugabe, seen from a personal perspective.
Friday, January 19, 2018
Sunday, January 14, 2018
Donald Trump’s alleged statement that he was tired of people coming to America from Haiti and ‘shithole’ countries in Africa ignited a storm of controversy, and caused his apologists to pull out all the stops to refute the claims. Trump has been accused by many of his critics of racism, while those in his camp vehemently deny this accusation. I might be misreading the whole thing, but the racism charge seems to be based mainly on his alleged use of the term ‘shithole’ to describe countries in Africa, along with his preference for people from Norway.
While Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) maintains that this was what Trump said, Senator David Perdue (R-GA), after initially saying that he didn’t ‘recall’ the president using such a term, later came out and told George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week” that he ‘did not use that word.’ Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) said he didn’t hear Trump say ‘that word.’ Kirstjen Nielsen, Homeland Security Secretary, who was also in the meeting, told Fox News that she didn’t recall Trump saying ‘that exact phrase,’ but conceded that the conversation about immigration was ‘impassioned.’
Now, we can rant and rave forever about whether or not Trump called African countries ‘shithole’ countries, but I’d like to point out something that everyone seems to be ignoring. None of the Trump apologists have denied that he expressed displeasure at immigrants coming from Haiti and African countries, and would prefer Norwegians. Maybe they were so busy trying to make him sound less crass and vulgar, they overlooked it, or maybe he said it, only without calling the countries in question ‘shitholes.’ So, dear friends, whether or not he used that exact term is irrelevant. If he said he was frustrated with immigrants from Haiti and African countries, and would prefer lily white immigrants from Scandinavia, whether it was intentional or conscious or not, it was racist—just without the scatological term. The fact that he was expressing a feeling shared by many of those who support and voted for him is also beside the point.
I’m sure there will be someone who will immediately come up with a scenario where he ‘never mentioned Haiti or African countries.’ After all, in this administration, truth is often replaced by alternate facts, and if the man behind the desk at 1600 Pennsylvania disagrees with it, it’s ‘fake news.’
So, let the fun begin.
Saturday, January 13, 2018
Former ambassador to Afghanistan, Ron Neumann, compares the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan on American Diplomat: https://www.amdipstories.org/podcast/ron-neumann
Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Check out this amazing podcast by Peter Romero and Laura Bennett that explores the day-to-day life of American diplomats.
In the wake of Donald ‘Loose-Lips, Tweet from the Hip’ Trump’s most recent 140-character rants, there was buzz encouraging Twitter to suspend his account. Wisely, the company refused to do so. Now, anyone who has read my musings knows that I’m no fan of our 45th president, but, I am strongly against trying to stifle him on Twitter, or any other communications platform, for the same reason I condemn the White House’s attempt to block publication of Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House; it would be a blatant violation of the Constitutional provision of freedom of speech.
As a nation of laws; a condition that Trump seems hellbent on changing, by the way; we must learn to endure communications that we disagree with, or vehemently dislike, in order to protect all speech. So, we must continue to allow Trump to get up in the wee hours of the morning and fire off his ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘I’m a stable genius’ missives, and hope that he doesn’t inadvertently start a nuclear war in the process.
There’s another reason that we should not try to block this, despite the danger it causes. At some point, and that point is probably a way in the future, he will have to answer for his actions, and there will be no better evidence of his state of mind, intentions, and actions, than his own words. So, rather than trying to muzzle him—as desirable as that might be—we should preserve his every tweet, his every recorded word. One day, they just might be the key exhibits in the prosecution’s case. And, if not that, they will certainly be a treasure trove of background material for historical researchers.
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
Friday, December 29, 2017
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
History and Women: Meet Author Charles Ray and his fascinating novel,...: A fascinating tale of one of the great black heroes of the American West! Read the First Chapter! Meet the author, Charles Ray! In 1875, Ind...
History and Women: Meet Author Charles Ray and his fascinating novel,...: A fascinating tale of one of the great black heroes of the American West! Read the First Chapter! Meet the author, Charles Ray! In 1875, Ind...
Friday, December 22, 2017
I live in a diverse neighborhood, and it's never more apparent than during the winter holidays. Some of my neighbors don't celebrate, some go for the minimalist look, and some go hog to the wall. I don't celebrate, but the wife does, and now that we have grandchildren, it's kind of obligatory. The wife did a tree and streamers for a while, but with just the two of us, it got kinda boring, so she's now restricting the decoration to a single, simple wreath on the door, and we go to our daughter's house for the other stuff.
What I do like, though, is going around the neighborhood just before December 25 and snapping photos of some of the more notable displays. I share a couple of them with you.
Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
A fascinating article by best-selling author and former diplomat, James Bruno:
Saturday, December 2, 2017
Like many Americans, I was surprised in November 2016, when, despite losing the popular vote by 3 million ballots, the quirky Electoral College system elected Donald Trump president, and again when he announced the nomination of Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state. I was, however, prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt, conditioned as I am after 50 years of government service, to accept the outcome of elections, even when, because of the Electoral College, that will is not that of a majority of those who voted, and if recent polls are to be believed, a majority of those who didn’t.
As we approach the first anniversary of the Trump Administration, though, I’m left with a lot of doubt, and very little benefit, particularly when it comes to the dismal state of the country’s foreign affairs.
With the president engaging in name calling and bellicosity with North Korea’s mercurial leader pushing the world as close to nuclear war as it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, undercutting his secretary of state by publicly calling his statements on the need for diplomacy to solve the Korean crisis ‘a waste of time,’ and alienating many of our key allies through his actions and tweets, I’ve watched the United States’ global position gradually eroded over the past eleven months more than after our 1973 withdrawal from Vietnam. Secretary of defense James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, in summarizing Trump’s plans to reduce the Department of State to a hollow shell, said “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” Trump seems determined to do both. In February 2017, the White House draft budget proposed a State Department cut of 31%, but a $54 billion increase in defense spending. The defense increase was only partly offset by cuts to all civilian agencies and programs, which is bad enough, but the idea that we can increase military presence globally, while at the same time, decreasing or eliminating the diplomats and aid officials that work alongside the military in some of the world’s toughest spots, is not pennywise and pound foolish, it’s just plain foolish.
Tillerson, despite his success as CEO of Exxon, has not done much better at the State Department. His aloofness, failure or inability to convince the president to curb his tendency to ‘tweet before thinking,’ and failure to fill key senior positions across the entire department, have resulted in alienation and frustration at Foggy Bottom. Senior and experienced Foreign Service Officers have been leaving in large numbers, and little has been done to fill the experience void their departure creates. When Tillerson travels abroad, rather than working with our ambassadors (many of whom are charge d’affaires, because ambassadors have not been nominated), he has with him in meetings, sitting where the ambassador would normally sit, an aide who lacks foreign policy experience.
Failure to appoint senior leaders in the State Department, such as the assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, for example, and leaving many of the bureaus under the leadership of individuals in an ‘acting’ capacity, has an immediate impact. Certain actions, such as the decision to evacuate an embassy, cannot be decided by an official ‘acting’ for the principal, which could result in a delay in making critical decisions. In addition, when coupled with the departure of so many senior career officials, people are placed in positions without having access to the advice and counsel of more experienced people. There are also long-term effects that neither Tillerson nor the president seem of aware of, or, heaven forbid, care about it. Eliminating so many senior people means that those in the junior ranks must work their way through the system without benefit of the experienced guidance those of my generation in the diplomatic service found so valuable in our careers. They, in turn, though forced to take on more senior responsibilities, lack the experience to effectively help those below them. After four years, this becomes a problem that will exist for a long time into the future, long after the end of this administration.
What we’re witnessing is the systematic destruction of our ability to exercise sober global leadership, and the erosion of our global reputation.
For the average American, there is also a price to pay. Hollowing out the Foreign Service will eventually reduce our ability to serve the interests of Americans who travel, work, or live abroad, and will reduce the level of service we provide to American business abroad. This is not good for our national security.
None of these problems will be solved by buying more ammunition.
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Jabber Jaws Reviews: Charles Ray's Frontier Justice: The Story of Bass ...: Bass Reeves knows the land they call Indian Territory in Arkansas as well as the surrounding areas. And because of this, Reeves is give...
Friday, November 17, 2017
I am excited to announce that my novel, Vixen, has been nominated for the Readers Choice Award in the Historical Fiction Category. I encourage all of my readers to go to www.tckpublishing.com/readers-choice-voting/ and go to category 14 (Historical Fiction) and vote for it. Vixen can be found near the bottom of the category page. Your vote will be greatly appreciated. Again, a reminder, go to www.tckpublishing.com/readers-choice-voting/ and vote.
Monday, October 30, 2017
When former San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick, knelt during the playing of the National Anthem at the start of the 2016 season to bring attention to police brutality against African-Americans, it kicked off a controversy that has even included the President of the United States.
Donald Trump, famous for his early-morning tweets about sundry subjects, often having nothing to do with his role as the country’s commander-in-chief, and frequently abrasive and abusive against his perceived ‘enemies,’ immediately inserted himself into the situation by demanding that any players refusing to stand during the anthem should be fired. In response, many more players (and some owners and other team officials) have either joined in the protests, or sided with Trump.
This controversial situation shows no signs of abating, and raw emotions have taken the place of rational thought as Trump continues to stir the flames with his ill-advised and often inappropriate tweets.
A number of questions need to be asked and answered in order to bring some sanity back into this situation.
Is there anything, other than personal respect, that requires any American citizen to render honors to the anthem or flag? As a former professional military officer, I’d have to say, it depends. Military regulations require uniformed personnel to render appropriate honors, whether in or out of uniform, but there is no statue that can require non-military personnel to do so. If this argument is about rendering proper respect for our national symbols, I have to ask, what about the many examples of misuse of the national flag?
The Flag Code, though not a law, establishes certain procedures and actions in respect to the national flag. Flag etiquette requires that the flag not be”
- Used as drapery, or for covering a speaker’s desk, draping a platform, or any decoration in general.
- Embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything to be discarded after temporary use.
- Used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, policeman, fireman, or members of patriotic organizations.
What, then, should the reaction be to singers who wear headwear, jackets, or pants with the flag on them, or the NASCAR vehicles with flags on them, which are exposed to dirt, grease and exhaust fumes? What about the display of the national flag alongside the Confederate flag, a symbol of forces that rose in rebellion against the United States?
It would seem to me that, if we’re going to have conniptions about people kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, we should be indignant over the blatant misuse of the flag, should we not?
If Donald Trump, who attended a military high school, but is ignorant of the bugle calls that he should have heard every day he was in school, is so upset over this exercise of the Constitutional right to protest, he should be equally indignant over the blatant disregard for flag etiquette.
That he is not speaks volumes. Patriotism is not something that can be legislated or demanded. It arises naturally when people feel respected by those waving the symbols. Our energy would be better spent learning and respecting the rule of law established by the Constitution, and showing respect for those whose views differ from our own.
It’s time to stop tweeting, and start thinking.
Saturday, October 28, 2017
My westerns for young readers series, the Daniel's Journey series, has been republished under the Rusty Spur Publishers imprint. Check them out by clicking on the images below:
Friday, October 20, 2017
Once again, Donald J. Trump, our commander-in-chief, thanks to the mathematical vagaries of the Electoral College, is in a dispute involving the family of a service member killed in combat. This time, the controversy stems from a phone call Trump made to Myeshia Johnson, wife of Army Sergeant La David Johnson, who was killed in an ISIS ambush in the African country of Niger recently.
According to Representative Frederica Wilson (D, FL), Trump told the widow that Sergeant Johnson “knew what he signed up for, but I guess it still hurt.” Trump, as he is prone to do, went immediately on the offensive, tweeting that the representative’s account was a total fabrication.
White House chief of staff, John Kelly, a former marine whose son was killed in combat in Afghanistan, went public to ‘explain’ the situation and ‘defend’ the president, and in the process exposed Trump for the liar we all know him to be. According to Kelly, Trump tried his level best to ‘communicate warmly, with empathy.’ In his remarks, Kelly alludes to the fact that Trump did indeed use language similar to that claimed by Wilson, but added that he was stunned and broken-hearted by her conveying these details to the media.
This is a lot of he-said, she-said, with both sides digging in. Just to keep the smoke swirling, I’d like to add a possible third scenario for consideration.
It is possible that Trump did want to be warm and caring in his calls to the families of the deceased, but you must remember that we’re dealing here with Donald J. Trump, former reality TV personality whose catch phrase is ‘you’re fired,’ and who was coached by former McCarthy-era lawyer to deal with criticism by attacking with overwhelming force. Trump, to my knowledge, has never shown empathy in his life, and is incapable of considering anyone’s feelings but his own. Added to this, anyone who has listened to him speak when he’s not reading prepared remarks, has to have noticed that he is not the most erudite of people. He rambles, repeats, utters unconnected sentences, and pretty much says whatever pops into his mind. I, for one, can easily imagine him on the phone, without a written script, saying something along the lines of what he’s accused of saying, and thinking to himself—if he ever thinks while he’s talking—that this is a pretty neat thing to say.
During my time in the army, I served on occasion as a casualty assistance officer, a duty that required me to interact with the families of soldiers killed in Vietnam. I can tell you, in situations like this, you’re walking on egg shells. The wrong word, and the wrong time, or in the wrong way, given the grief these people are experiencing, can blow up in your face. Even for those of us with military experience, it was often difficult to find the right way to say the right thing. Trump, whose military experience consists of being exiled to a military school where he apparently didn’t even learn bugle calls, can hardly be expected to understand the sense of loss involved here.
Here’s where the real problem is, in my humble opinion. Rather than acknowledging that he might have expressed himself less sympathetically than required, apologizing for any grief his words caused, and moving on, Trump did what Trump does whenever anyone criticizes him—he attacked like a wounded pit bull, and began hurling accusations. Liar, liar, pants on fire, he screams at Wilson. His knee-jerk reaction is yet another example of a man who is not a deep thinker, not even a medium deep thinker, for whom the truth is whatever he says, and anyone or anything contradicting him is ‘fake.’
In this case, it’s his pants that are burning. And, it’s his inability to reflect on his words and actions, his refusal to take responsibility for his shortcomings or admit that sometimes he’s just . . . wrong, that lit the match.
I almost feel sorry for John Kelly. His sense of loyalty to his boss seems to have trumped (no pun intended, really) his sense of integrity. While he didn’t explicitly lie, his mealy-mouth defense of Trump came close, perilously close to it.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
The Wild West Showdown with J.C. Hulsey: Episode 99 05/03 by Wild West Showdown with J-C- Hulsey | Entertainment Podcasts
The Wild West Showdown with J.C. Hulsey: Episode 99 05/03 by Wild West Showdown with J-C- Hulsey | Entertainment Podcasts: J.C. Hulsey has lived in Midlothian, Texas over thirty years. He's a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He has been married for 57 years. He enjoys Western movies and TV Shows, (especially the older ones) and reading about Mail-Order Brides. He is also the owner of six cats (all stray cats, showed up on the back porch) and one dog (rescue dog) He worked for 33 years at Bell Helicopter. He served in the USAF for five years, and the Air National Guard for four years. He started writing songs in his early twenties. He recorded a couple of songs in the late 1960s. He started writing poetry in the 1970s to share with others. He self-published them on Amazon in 2013. He still felt the need to write something different. He tried writing a book in the 1970s, but it was never finished. In 2014, he felt the urge to write a Western novel. However, he needed something different than what was on the market. What about a young Christian Gunfighter? That book turned into a series of seven books that won First Place for Best Westen Series in 2015 from Texas Association of Authors. His is also the founder and chairman of Outlaws Publishing LLC. Music by Jason Castro, Donna Ray & Kevin Collins Chad Prather's Thought For The Day Special Guest Author Charles Ray
Friday, September 22, 2017
Link to preview of 'Vietnam in Washington' panel show on WETA-TV. Aired September 22, 2017 at 8:30 pm. http://watch.weta.org/video/3004836857/
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
I have been a frequent rider on Washington’s Metrorail since moving to this area in July 1982, when I retired from the army and joined the Foreign Service. Having lived in a number of countries before and after 1982, I am a firm supporter of efficient mass transit in urban areas, and until recent problems began plaguing Metrorail, particularly the Red Line, which is my main method of transportation around the metro area, viewed DC’s system as one of the world’s finest. I’ve been a passenger on the rail systems in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, London, Tokyo, and Seoul, and viewed our system as one of the most orderly and efficient.
Until recent arguments among the jurisdictions over funding, increasingly frequent breakdowns on the Red Line, and a degradation of order and cleanliness throughout the system, I would never have believed that our system would be in trouble. Alas, it seems to lurch from problem to problem, with no end in sight.
Unlike other urban mass transit systems, Washington’s Metrorail doesn’t have a dedicated budget, but must rely instead on contributions from the three political entities it services, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. In dire need for funds to upgrade in order to merely maintain a modest level of efficiency, the political hassles among the jurisdictions threaten even the now somewhat-degraded service.
I continue to support the system, though, because it is necessary. No urban area can thrive without efficient, affordable mass transit. It makes sense, in terms of helping the economy and protecting the environment. There is, however, another reason it should be strongly supported, and not just by the local political jurisdictions, but the national government as well, and one that has not, to date, been a part of the public discussion.
As a diplomat for over thirty years, I’ve observed the negative effects of the divides between social, political, ethnic, and economic classes in places around the world, both in developed and developing countries. While ethnic differences will always be with us, and economic disparities can only be partially mitigated, the factor that aggravates them is the communication divide that exists within societies. When people of these different demographics get few opportunities to know each other, their views are shaped by impressions and propaganda. When they are put in situations where they actually get to ‘know’ each other, those impressions often change—sometimes for the better.
That is what I’ve seen on Metrorail. When I first came to Washington, DC in the late 1960s, and Metrobus was the only form of mass transit, interactions between and among the area’s various social and economic classes were limited and fleeting. A laborer from Silver Spring seldom had extended contact with a stock broker residing in an affluent Potomac neighborhood, and that stock broker had probably never seen where the man doing his lawn lived. Metrorail went a long way toward changing that.
Before I retired in 2012, in particular during two assignments in Washington—two years working in Rosslyn with the State Department’s Office of Defense Trade Controls and three years as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, with an office in Crystal City, I was a daily commuter on Metro’s Red, Orange, Blue, and Yellow Lines. Not only did I have the opportunity to sit cheek by jowl with residents from neighborhoods from all over the area, but saw many of those areas during the surface portion of my commute. I heard dozens of languages spoken, often had conversations with bored fellow riders who, after a few minutes vented about jobs or family problems, and observed the dress and mannerisms of a broad swath of the population. Five years of people watching gave me a better sense of the area than did thirty-five years of reading and watching the local news reports. It also helped me develop a more inclusive sense of community, and contributed to my decision to stay in the area after retirement. I see myself as a citizen of a diverse community, where all the different flavors, like the new M&M multi-colored candies, add up to a most satisfying whole.
So, for all these reasons, I entreat the powers that be to take a broader, more inclusive view of mass transit in this area. In addition to helping people move about better for economic reasons, and protecting the environment, maintain the system in order to continue building the Washington area’s sense of community. In a time when partisan divides threaten our unity more than ever, we need something to pull us together. A one-hour political speech won’t get the job done, but a one-hour commute can get it started.
Thursday, September 14, 2017
Friday, September 8, 2017
Monday, September 4, 2017
Friday, September 1, 2017
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Sunday, August 20, 2017
Saturday, August 19, 2017
Friday, August 18, 2017
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Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Friday, August 11, 2017
Watching the national and international news, where the war of words unfolding between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is like watching two bullies vie for dominance over the playground, I’m torn between laughing and crying. Laughing because these two child-men, with their over-sized egos and disregard for common courtesy, would under other circumstances be jokes, fodder for late-night comedy shows, and crying, because their playground in this case is nothing less than the world.
Since assuming leadership after the death of his father, Kim has been one of the more provocative leaders of North Korea, a country that has made a specialty of bad behavior and bellicosity since the end of the Korean War. Trump, on the other hand, a reality TV personality, with his own out-sized ego and lack of introspection, has, since his surprise win in the 2016 election, added bellicosity to the American political and diplomatic playbook.
The problem is that neither man understands the other. Kim lives in a hermetically-sealed environment where everything is filtered through the lens of the Western threat to the feudal country, and a cultural need to save face at all costs. Trump, on the other hand, lives in self-imposed ignorance, eschewing reading or reflection, and defaulting to his bullying style to get his way, a hallmark of the way he has traditionally conducted his business affairs. While I can’t say it with any assurance about Kim, my guess is, like Trump, he pays little attention to advice from underlings unless it fits his preconceived opinion, and like a child whose tantrums have elicited a response from beleaguered parents, believes that his way of doing things works.
Kim doesn’t understand how the U.S. system works, and like many foreigners, takes what our politicians say publicly at face value. Trump doesn’t have a clue about Korean culture or psychology—or anyone else’s for that matter. Kim threatens because threats have worked in the past. It has gotten food aid from the South and the international community, and he has been allowed to continue developing North Korea’s nuclear capability—a capability that I’m convinced he thinks the country needs in order to survive. Trump bullies because he is, not to sugar coat it, a bully. He bullied in business, he bullied in the campaign, and it has worked for him, so he continues to bully from the White House. He bullies everyone; his friends as well as his adversaries; so, he believes that the way to handle Kim is to just be a bigger bully. What else explains his statement that his ‘fire and fury’ statement was probably ‘not strong enough.’
The U.S. president doesn’t seem to have a clue about how international relations work, and he seems incapable of filtering his speech. Thus, instead of letting his ‘fire and fury’ statement stand for itself, and moving on to other things, he doubles down. His attitude seems to be, if Kim threatens, I’ll threaten ten times worse, unaware that he’s dealing with a man from a culture that believes in the saying, ‘better to burn down the house than to let one bed bug escape.’
Let’s be clear here; something that Mr. Trump seems incapable of; this is not just about North Korea and its nuclear blackmail. It’s about the existence of the Korean Peninsula. With thousands of long-range artillery pieces aimed south, Kim would be able to kill hundreds of thousands and do untold damage even if the U.S. launched a pre-emptive strike against his nuclear sites—provided we even know where they all are. And, of course, the Chinese have said that if the U.S. strikes first, they will support their North Korean ally. If North Korea strikes first, they will remain neutral. I don’t really believe that, but it’s nonetheless chilling that they would go so far as to say they would side with North Korea if we attack first. Kind of changes the dynamics a bit.
But, I don’t think Trump paid much attention to that. He’s like a lot of politicians who have no military experience or knowledge, but who are fascinated by all things military. He seems to believe that having the strongest military on the planet is all a country needs to impose its will on others. After a stalemate in the Korean War and a loss in Vietnam, many, even in the military, know better. That strong military needs to be backed up with strong diplomacy, which Trump seems to disdain, and strong alliances, which he seems determined to undermine.
Knowing the two personalities involved, I don’t see the war of words deescalating any time soon. One can only hope that wiser heads on both sides of the Pacific will eventually prevail, and both men will find something else to occupy their narrow minds and short attention spans.
In the meantime, those of us on the sidelines can only watch and wait.