Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Cop's Take on the Zimmerman Verdict

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/07/14/1223459/-A-Cop-s-take-on-the-Verdict?detail=email This guy tells it like it is.

Horses and Heroes: A Healing Documentary for Veterans

Friday, December 27, 2013

How Not to Handle a Diplomatic Dispute - Ask India

http://freepressjournal.in/from-domestic-spat-to-diplomatic-tussle/?utm_source=Daily+Media+Digest&utm_campaign=24088e0737-AFSA_Media_Digest_12_27_13&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_e87ea75dce-24088e0737-215168573 An Indian journalist describes how India could have maturely reacted to the Nanny case - and didn't.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Three Words For 2014

I’m about as much into making New Year’s resolutions as I am in celebrating Christmas – which is to say, I’m not much into it. When I came across Chris Brogan’s My Three Words List on one of Nick Kellet’s lists, though, I decided, ‘what the hey!’

Brogan uses his three word lists – a practice he started in 2011, I think – to establish motivational markers for himself, and since they didn’t seem like your traditional resolutions I was intrigued. After deciding to participate in this little exercise, my next task was to think of three appropriate words.

Actually only took about five minutes. I know what I’d like to achieve in 2014 – what every writer wants – more readers. I mean, on a crass, commercial level, that means selling more books, but I want to take the high ground here. I’m not just about selling more books (I won’t be disappointed at that, you understand, it’s just not my primary concern), but about getting my message out to more and more people. So, that means, in addition to increasing book sales, I’d also like to expand my blog readership.

 And, there you have it: my three words for 2014 – GET MORE READERS

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Grump's Christmas Carols

It’s four days until Christmas Day, and the weather here in suburban Maryland has taken a big left turn. This morning, the temperature had risen high enough that I was able to sit on my deck with my friend Grump (a distant relative of Dr. Seuss’s Grinch), drinking hot cocoa, and watching a squirrel do some last minute nut hunting for the coming winter. The snow is almost completely melted – except for a few stubborn clumps of ice here and there – so, I think a White Christmas is out of the question. Grump doesn’t mind – he hates Christmas almost as much as his relative does. I’m no big fan of Christmas myself, and I absolutely hate winter because the cold causes my arthritic joints to ache, but I do believe in being happy, and trying to spread happiness wherever and whenever I can. So, as we sipped the nice hot cocoa that my wife was kind enough to make for us, I decided to try to wipe that scowl off Grinch’s face by penning a couple of carols that I felt were sure to cheer even him up.
 “Hey, Grump,” I said. “What do you think of this one?”

 “I’m dreaming of a warm Christmas 
Just like the ones I used to know. 
When barefoot and in short pants 
We played in the warming glow 
Of the morning sunshine 
On the East Texas hillsides, 
Watching the lazy river flow. 
I’m dreaming of a warm Christmas 
As ice piles up on my driveway. 
I feel that I really must say, 
I wish for a warm Christmas Day.” 

“Hmph,” Grump growled. “You know it’ll be below freezing on Christmas Day, and there’s likely to be sleet. Your driveway will be like a skating rink, and you’ll probably fall again and break your other hip.” “Aw, come on,” I persisted. “It’s not all that bad. How about another carol?” ]

“Icy sidewalks, slippery sidewalks 
And the cold arctic wind; 
Is this truly the meaning of Christmas? 
Throngs of shoppers 
Grasping madly 
For those last minute gifts; 
Is this truly the meaning of Christmas?” 

 “Oh, knock it off,” Grump said, scowling. “You know it is the true meaning of Christmas nowadays. Everyone’s scrambling to get more and more gifts, stores are having sales like there’s no tomorrow, politicians are getting ready to go home to their constituents and try to fool them into thinking they’re really here in Washington looking after their interests – don’t try to cheer me up, ‘cause it ain’t gonna happen.” “Well,” I said. “It would be nice if people truly believed it’s a time for sharing and spreading joy. In fact, it would be nice if we had Christmas every day of the year, don’t you think?”
 “Hmph,” Grump growled, and took another sip of his cocoa. “At least the cocoa’s good.”

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Year-end Deals! Get Free Autographed Copies!

When Christmas is over and you’re surrounded by wrapping paper and the other detritus of the season, you might not be thinking about what to do with the rest of the year. Well, how about giving yourself a special Boxing Day or you name it celebratory gift?

I’m having a special promotion from December 26 to January 4 to celebrate the New Year.

Buy paperback copies of some of my books and get autographed copies of others FREE!

You can’t beat that, now can you?

 For the first three people who buy a paperback copy of Buffalo Soldier: Yosemite during the period Dec. 26 – Jan. 4, I’ll send an autographed copy of Buffalo Soldier: Homecoming.

For the first three people who buy a paperback copy of The Culling during the period Dec. 26 – Jan. 4, I’ll send an autographed copy of my Al Pennyback mystery, Death by Design.

To get your free autographed copy, send me an email with proof of purchase to: charlesray.author@yahoo.com. In your email include your snail mail address, and I’ll get your book in the mail right away. Remember, this is for the FIRST three who purchase a paperback copy (does not apply to e-books or other free promotions). The date of the email will be used to determine who is first, second, and third for each book. Unfortunately, I’m only able to offer this to readers in the U.S.A.

Mark your calendar (Dec. 26 – Jan. 4) and don’t miss out on this great year-end deal! To order, just click on the titles above.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

On Being Daring: Grabbing Life by the Throat

I think that in our dreams we all see ourselves as brave and daring; willing and able to face any challenge with steely resolve and unblinking courage. Having spent 20 years in the army, including two tours in Vietnam during the war, I know the reality is quite different. When danger stares you in the face, your legs become weak and your mouth gets dry – and your heart pounds so hard you can almost hear it. In short – you’re scared. Bravery, though, is not about not being scared, it’s about being scared and still doing what you have to do – about being bold in the face of adversity.

The bravest thing that I have ever done, believe it or not, happened far away from any battle field. One day, back in the late 1980s, we lived in an apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland, in the shadow of the I-495 Beltway, but also abutting a large forest that ran behind several housing developments. I used to love walking in that forest with my son and daughter, then ages 12 and 13.

One balmy Saturday in autumn, we were walking within sight of one of the communities when suddenly I looked up and saw a snarling Doberman barring our path, loping toward us from about a hundred yards away. The animal had gotten out of a backyard because its owner had let it roam the yard unleashed and had carelessly neglected to lock the gate. Looking at that snarling mass of black fur and muscle, with sharp teeth bigger than my index finger, I was as frightened as I’d ever been in my life (most of my nightmares since I was a kid involve being attacked by dogs). More than my own personal fear, though, was the fact that I was responsible for the safety of my son and daughter. The damn dog was between us and our apartment, and even if we’d want to run back the way we came, there was no way we could have outrun it. Don’t ask me why I did what I did next – to this day, even I don’t know what made me do it. I pushed my kids behind me, puffed my chest out and advanced on that dog, growling deep in my throat. First, the dog stopped dead in its tracks. Then, it stared at me, with a puzzled look. I kept walking forward. Maybe it was my size; I’m almost six feet tall and weighed 220 at the time, and the fact that I didn’t seem to be impressed by Mr. Doberman; but, that miserable canine whirled around and ran, yelping, toward his backyard with his tail between his legs. In the meantime, I grabbed the kids and, taking a path to avoid going to close to that community’s backyards, hastily returned to the safety of our apartment building.

At the time I wasn’t feeling brave. I was just happy that none of us had been hurt. In fact, it was many weeks later before I realized what an incredibly foolhardy thing I’d done – but, I felt a kind of pride in having done it.

That, I now realize, is what life is all about. Facing the things it throws at us, and having the gall and audacity to puff out your chest and stare them down.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

WIP: Chapter 2 of 'Buffalo Soldier: Yosemite'

They got an early start the next day, after fixing breakfast and striking camp. Ben rode in front of the detachment, but his mind was on the wagon immediately behind him, and his friend, who moaned each time the vehicle hit a bump, which was about every ten feet of the thirty-mile journey.
 Once at the fort, Ben accompanied the surgeon and wagon directly to the hospital, where orderlies gingerly removed Holman from the wagon and took him to an examination room. Ben wasn’t allowed in. The surgeon told him he would be informed as soon as the examination was complete. He went off to the stables to take care of his horse and gear and see to the rest of the detachment.
 He found Samuel Hightower in the stable brushing down his horse.
 “How’s Tom?” the lanky corporal asked as Ben approached.
 “Doc said he’d let me know soon’s they finished examining him.”
 Hightower shook his head. “That was a mean lookin’ break.”
 Ben had no medical training, but after nearly ten years in the cavalry he’d seen a lot of wounds, and he had to agree that Holman’s injury looked serious. Even if the doctors were able to reset the bones properly, he would be many months healing, during which time he’d be unable to sit a horse, or even walk without crutches.
 “Yeah, pretty mean.”
 “You think he’ll be laid up a while?”
 They both knew the answer to that question. Ben just shrugged, and changed the subject. “We need to start getting ready for the next mission. The surveyors from Washington are due here any day now.”
 Ben looked around the stable, visually assessing the animals stalled there, and going over in his mind what he would need in terms of pack animals and equipment for what he knew was likely to be a three to four month mission.
 He started out, heading for the quartermaster sergeant to start the process of wheedling the necessary extra supplies out of the man, when he bumped into Major Joshua Wainwright, the troop commander.
 “Sergeant Carter,” Wainwright said. “I was just looking for you.”
 “Yes, sir,” Ben said, coming to attention. “I was just about to start putting the gear together for the trip back to California.”
 “That’s good. I know I don’t have to tell you how important this mission is. Colonel Hatch is depending on us . . . on you and your men . . . to see that it’s successful.”
 “I’ll do my best, sir.”
 “I know you will, sergeant,” Wainwright said. “That’s why I picked you to do it. Of course, I didn’t come here to talk to you about that.”
 “What is it, sir?” Ben asked. The worried look on the major’s face concerned Ben.
 “It’s about Corporal Holman.”
 Ben stopped breathing. He looked at the major with a shocked expression, afraid of what he might be about to say.
 “H-he’s okay, isn’t he? It was just a broken leg.”
 Wainwright laid a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry. He’ll live. It’s just that the leg was pretty badly broken, and he won’t be able to walk for several weeks, and the doctor said he shouldn’t sit a saddle for at least six months.
Ben breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn’t lost a man yet. The thought of losing anyone was bad enough, but to a stupid accident – it didn’t bear thinking about.
 “He’ll be reassigned to light duty here at the fort as soon as he’s released from the hospital,” Wainwright continued. “In the meantime, I’m assigning a replacement to your detachment.”
 Ben wanted to object – to say that he didn’t need anyone to replace one of his men because they couldn’t be replaced. He wanted to say that, the one time he’d been given a bunch of new troopers, he’d almost lost a man. He wasn’t a training sergeant. At that thought, he pulled himself up. He had in fact been a trainer. When he’d been put in charge of the detachment at Sandy Gulch in West Texas after the lieutenant and sergeant who had been in charge both fell ill, he’d had to whip them into shape. He smiled at the memory. They’d been ten of the raggediest-looking soldiers he’d ever seen, but they’d come out on top in skirmishes against the renegade Comanche Scarred Nose. Since that encounter, they’d proven themselves again and again, whether fighting hostile Indians or dealing with the prejudice of the white settlers they’d been assigned to the frontier to protect. In a few years, though, they had transformed into the toughest cavalry troopers in the entire United States Army in Ben’s opinion. They couldn’t be replaced. But, he was a sergeant of cavalry, and the major was his commander. He hadn’t asked Ben’s permission to assign a new man – he didn’t need to. Nine years earlier Ben might have questioned him. But, with years of command under his own belt, he had matured beyond such foolish behavior. His was not to question, but to make whatever the officers decided work. He squared his shoulders and looked expressionless at Wainwright.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “Who is the replacement?”
 “You met him,” Wainwright said. “Corporal Kincaid – he’s the driver that brought the doctor out to pick up your injured trooper.”
 Ben wanted to scream, ‘No’ at the top of his lungs. He remembered the trooper. The one who’d brought the doctor out to the field and had forgotten to bring extra supplies or a tent. At least the recruits he’d been assigned before had the excuse of inexperience. Kincaid, on the other hand, was a corporal. That meant he’d been in the cavalry at least four or five years. No trooper with a year or more experience ever left the fort without rations and equipment for a possible overnight stay in the field, and to take an officer out without the required gear was unthinkable. He’d been asked to take on difficult tasks before, but now he felt he was being asked the impossible. But, there was nothing to do about it but square his shoulders and give it his best.
 “Okay, sir, I’ll brief him on the mission tonight.”
 “Good, good. Oh, and the regimental commander will be arriving around mid-morning tomorrow from Las Vegas. He’s here to officially brief us on the mission, and welcome the survey party when they arrive day after tomorrow. I want you and your men – including Kincaid – in parade uniforms for the arrival ceremony.” Ben snapped to attention and saluted. “Yes, sir.”

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Friday, December 6, 2013

Negotiations: Sometimes, Getting to "Maybe" is a Good Outcome

Negotiation is the art of coming to agreement on an issue. There are a number of fine books on how to negotiate. One really good one is Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. While it’s a great book, with a lot of practical advice, it can, in the wrong cultural context, leave the impression that getting ‘yes’ from your negotiation opponent is the only successful outcome you should be seeking.

The recent contact by the P-5 with Iran over that country’s nuclear program points out in the starkest terms the danger of such an assumption. Unfortunately, in the post-9/11 environment, and several years of George Bush’s cowboy diplomacy (shoot first, and ask their names later), too many in this country have a zero-sum view of negotiations, and are strongly opposed to the interim agreement that was forged with Iran. They want to get to yes, and the only acceptable yes is Iran caving to all demands.

Well, in the first place, it’s not going to happen. There are just too many years of distrust on both sides – too much baggage. So in this case, an interim agreement - getting to ‘maybe’; is actually not such a bad outcome. Tea Party Republicans in congress are threatening to scuttle the agreement on the grounds that it doesn’t help Israel’s security, and we can’t trust the Iranians. I have a problem processing this stance. I can’t for the life of me see how doing nothing but threatening Iran with military action (or even carrying out those threats) before trying for a peaceful settlement of the issue helps Israel or anyone else’s security, or what it has to do with trusting anyone. Frankly, the Iranians don’t have a lot of reason to trust us or the West if one is to be brutally honest.

Nine prominent Americans who served as ambassador to Israel and as undersecretaries of state disagree with our Tea Party friends. They see the interim agreement as good for Israel’s security. Former secretary of state, Colin Powell, has also lauded the interim agreement. Now, whose position do you think is more credible – a bunch of self-serving politicians looking for any excuse to bash a president they can’t seem to defeat at anything, or people who have actually served in the trenches, and know what they’re talking about?

The fact is, it’s time to give diplomacy a chance, and President Obama is to be applauded for taking this posture. We can’t continue to settle every problem with force – for one thing, we’re rapidly running out of force, and for another, as a veteran, I’m getting tired of seeing all the young men and women with missing limbs every time I go to the National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

We have to be realistic about it, though. Negotiating, especially in a diplomatic context, is not always about getting a definite ‘yes.’ Diplomacy is not a destination, it’s a journey; a never ending journey of managing relations between independent, and sometimes stubborn and mutually antagonistic states. In such a context, getting to ‘maybe’ – to the tentative agreement that we won’t fight today, we’ll talk some more – is sometimes the best you can hope for. The key objective sometimes, as former special representative on the Afghanistan issue Marc Grossman recently wrote, is to ‘help open the door.’ I would take that even further. Sometimes, the objective of negotiations is to ‘keep the door open.’ We spent years talking to the Chinese before finally establishing diplomatic relations. The same thing was true with Vietnam. Relations with neither country are what one would call rosy, but we do continue to talk, and a lot of issues that could have become full-blown crises were kept off the front pages and eventually settled. As long as we continue to talk, there’s the possibility that the others will also be settled. We can continue to hope.

In the meantime, we still have ‘maybe.’