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A former student, teacher, and soldier, I am now a husband, father, public official, and writer.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What's the Rush to Attack Syria?

     As U.N. inspectors continue to investigate exactly what happened in Syria, the U.N. leadership finds itself begging the U.S. not to act until the investigation is complete.

http://news.msn.com/world/un-inspectors-still-checking-stricken-syria-areas

http://news.msn.com/world/ban-ki-moon-pleads-for-time-on-syria-investigation

     In the meanwhile, President Obama has already told PBS Newshour, "We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out."
    
http://money.msn.com/business-news/article.aspx?feed=OBR&date=20130828&id=16826165&ocid=msnnws

     How can anybody 'conclude' anything before the investigation is complete? And if he can, why even conduct it? If what the President says is correct, the entire investigation is unnecessary. It reminds me an old cowboy movies where the posse catches a guy and tell him, "We're gonna give ya a fair trial and then we're gonna hang ya."

     But what if there is evidence that it was the rebels conducted the attack? Some say here is.

http://news.antiwar.com/2013/08/28/syria-three-other-chemical-attacks-by-rebels-in-same-area/

     How do we know who is responsible? Why should we act without even consulting our own congress? What about the inevitable collateral damage that will kill even more innocent Syrians? And above all, why are we in such a dang hurry? And why is Russia Today the only news outlet (besides Fox News) asking these questions?


    The whole thing just doesn't smell right.

   

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Syria...Why?


It seems our government is hell bent on attacking Syria in response to the recent alleged chemical weapon attack against the rebels fighting to overthrow the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

            There is no question that the use of chemical weapons is inhuman and inexcusable, but what, if anything, should the U.S. do about it? This case is unclear at best. The administration is beating the war drum so loudly, no other voice can be heard. Everyone from the Commander in Chief to the Veep, Press Secretary, and the Secretary of Defense are speaking as if restraint is not even an option.





 

After reading several pieces about the ‘Syria situation,’ and focusing on the words from our own officials, I have some serious concerns and a whole lot of questions. Here are just a few:

1. Are we sure there was a chemical attack? Sure, we’ve seen footage of victims on TV, but has there been any evidence presented to confirm a chemical attack? If so, what was chemical was it? Was it a persistent agent or one that disperses rapidly? We should know that by now, especially before going forward with military plans. And if those plans are carried out and we put boots on the ground, we MUST know what these weapons are because our troops will be prime targets for them.

2. Are we sure Assad did it? If the chemical attack really did happen, who conducted it? Which side would benefit most from images of dead children spread around the world in viral videos? Again, we better be sure who is responsible before we are tricked into a conflict that could pull in Russia, China, Iran, and who knows who else.

3. What are our objectives? If we can prove definitively that there was a chemical attack and that Assad is responsible, what do we do? What do we hope to accomplish? Yes, what happened in Syria is terrible, but what about the civil war that has raged in Darfur for ten years? Current estimates put the death toll at 300,000.


        Are we moved to action by murder using mustard gas, but not machetes? The administration has stated that Syrian regime change is not the goal of any military strikes. They just want to punish Assad. Really? Is that why we’ve been supplying weapons, food, medical supplies, and money to the rebels for months?
This leads to the next question.

4. Who are the good guys? There are none. This is Egypt and Libya all over again. Yes, the dictators in those countries sucked, but at they were better than the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a big player in the Syrian resistance. How many times does it take to learn our lesson? Assad is a thug, but at least he keeps to himself.

5. What about Russia, China, Iran, etc.? This is the most troubling part of the debate. It also seems to be the part least addressed by our government. What are the consequences of drawing these countries in to the conflict? Everyone has drawn lines in the sand. No one wants to look weak. It isn’t difficult to imagine this situation snowballing as the assignation of Archduke Ferdinand did in 1914.
        
6. Where have all the doves gone? Where are all the politicians who advocated caution and restraint when George Bush was making his case for attacking Iraq? Two of the most vocal at that time, John Kerry and Joe Biden, are now cheering the loudest for action. Their rhetoric is akin to shouting, “Attack! Attack! Attack!” Why was it bad to strike then, but good now? After all, Saddam Hussein killed THOUSANDS of people in multiple chemical attacks. Could it be that this is a convenient distraction from the recent scandals? Is this a chance to reclaim some ‘street cred’ for the administration? I hope not, but it sure does look that way.

7. What are our national interests? How does this situation threaten our security, sovereignty, or economy? This is the most important question because it illustrates the only instances that military force is justified. In other words, the only occasion in which killing others and putting our own sons and daughters in harms way is acceptable is when it is done in self defense. Is this self defense?  It's a question few are asking. As I stated above, the world is a dangerous place with lots of evil people. Always has been. Always will be. We can't change that. We don't run the world. We shouldn't try to either.

 
I found this video a few months ago. It's been on my mind a lot recently.
This is what it will be like on the ground if this situation gets out of hand.
 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Has the Iraqi Civil War Begun?

According to NBC, the U.S. government is reporting that Iraq is now in a state of civil war.

Here is the NBC report:


 
 
 
 

     I wrote a detailed blog post about the situation last September outlining the powder keg of simmering hatreds and political conflicts just waiting to explode.

     Much like the Balkans after the exit of the Soviet Union, Iraq is set to become a nexus of brutality and genocide. But the danger doesn't stop there.

     The ethnic/religious nature of this war which pits Arab against Kurd and Sunni against Shia will almost certainly pull neighboring countries Iran and Syria into the fray. This conflict could potentially spread to Jordan, Turkey, and even Saudi Arabia. If it does, I can't begin to guess how high gas prices will jump...and it will happen very quickly, just as it has every other time the region becomes more unstable than usual. One can only imagine what effect this would have on fragile Western economies.

  
    














Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Book Review: King of Thorns


 
 
 
It isn’t often that you come across a book that changes the way you see an entire genre, a book that becomes the measuring stick for others that come after it. Mark Lawrence has managed to write two such works. Even more amazingly, they are his first published novels.

In the fantasy genre, George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire is the current heavyweight champ. I enjoy ASoIaF and it truly is an epic achievement. I'm also enjoying the HBO's adaptation.

That being said, Lawrence’s style is very different from Martin's, but I found it just as enjoyable. Compared to the glacial pace of Martin’s books, Lawrence’s sail along at a nice clip. Lawrence’s writing is also much more focused and visceral than Martin’s.

King of Thorns is the second book in The Broken Empire series. Both KoT and its predecessor, Prince of Thorns follow the protagonist (if you could call him that, but more on this later), Honorous Jorg Ancrath.

Jorg is the son of one of the many kings to arise on the former European continent centuries after some long ago apocalypse. His goal is to reunite (and rule, of course) the Empire. That’s all I’ll say about the plot. I hate spoilers.

Lawrence’s prose is clean, flowing, witty, and deep. His storytelling is fast-paced, gritty, and contemplative. He not only tells one heck of a story, but also explores the ‘why’ of it. Why is Jorg such an evil, self-centered little snot? Why do his followers remain loyal to him? And why can’t I keep myself from liking him?

This is the brilliance of Lawrence’s writing. He gives us a protagonist that, in any other book, would be reviled. He mixes three parts narcissism, two parts genius, one part charisma, and a pinch of humanity and comes out with a character that we know we should hate, but end up cheering for. This is no small accomplishment. Not since Mike Myers’ Doctor Evil has a villain been so appealing…and he was a boy scout compared to Jorg.

But Lawrence doesn’t stop there. His examinations of the inner workings and motives of his characters reveal insights into human nature that could teach a psychology major a thing or two.

Again, I now find myself comparing much of what I read to Lawrence’s work. Sadly, most books are found wanting in its shadow. It’s hard to go back to ground round once you’ve had filet mignon. I guess this is the only criticism I have for this series so far. It spoils you.

If King of Thorns does ruin other books for you, take heart. Emperor of Thorns is scheduled for release this August. The anticipation will make it taste all the sweeter.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Guest Post: Author Henry Brown

     Today is our first ever guest blog! A few months ago, I met fellow veteran and author Henry Brown on Facebook. Henry is a great guy and has just released his latest novel, Tier Zero. He's also graciously offered to give us a look into his personal history and motivation for writing men's adventure fiction.

     Please join me in welcoming Henry to the blog.

 

 

LOST PHOTOS, OLD ARMY BUDDIES, AND WRITING MEN’S ADVENTURE FICTION


 

     American troops have some really high-speed gear and weapons these days. Heck, people in general (including our troops) have a lot of cool stuff to play with. In particular: digital cameras.

     The deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq are probably the most photographed in all history, and the shots snapped by photojournalists only account for a very small percentage of them.

     I never had cause to consider this before I put my book trailer together for Hell and Gone a while back. If it wasn’t for the generosity of Jack Murphy and a few other vets, I would have had to buy an awful lot of stock photos for the project.

 
authorbackintheday

 
That’s me many moons ago with an M249 SAW trying to look like Rambo (and totally wrecking light discipline by having my buddy use his camera flash). This is one of the only photos from my Sandbox Deployment to survive; and it survives only because I mailed it to my brother (who was kind enough to scan it for me).

We didn’t have digital cameras back then, so the number of pictures I could take was limited. And if you lost the negative and the film, you lost the image forever. That’s exactly what happened to almost all of my photos from those years. Most were destroyed in a basement flood. I think the rest might be in an ex’s attic with my Class “A”s.

Don’t ask.

Anyway, I wanted to be a paratrooper ever since reading about the 101st Airborne Division’s defense of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. By the time I came of age to serve, the only Airborne division left was the 82nd, so that’s what I volunteered for. It had a pretty impressive reputation, too, so I was an All-American, and proud to be.
 
It may sound cliché, but I became a man in the Airborne. Before that I was an immature, naive kid with a high school diploma and a whole lot of wishful thinking. But the desire to write was already inside me. If the military career I imagined didn’t work out, at least I’d collect some experiences to write about while it lasted.

Well, I didn’t stay in for 20 years, but I sure did get some experience…and a lot more.

My now-embarrassing wishful thinking had a World War Two-style confrontation with the Soviet Union taking place, and I wanted to be in the thick of it when it did. I wanted to be a bad dude in an elite unit; but I also thought I wanted to experience conventional warfare, like those wisecracking GIs in the romanticized war movies on TV.

Hence the Airborne Infantry.

Being stationed at Fort Bragg, I had opportunities to hobnob with guys from Special Forces I met while wrenching on my street machine at the Smoke Bomb Hill auto shop, visiting the JFK Special Warfare Center, and playing “aggressor” for them out in Camp McCall. It occurred to me, after the fact, that Special Forces would have been a much better fit for me than being a line doggie in a rifle company.

 

stylizedclassA

 

(That’s me back before the US Army began handing out berets to every pogue with a breather badge from Fort Stress Card.)

Most of the characters in my two adventure novels are based on guys I knew, or sometimes amalgams of different men. I very much admired the soldiers I knew from Group, and I hope Tommy Scarred Wolf, Joshua Rennenkampf, et al, give readers the same impression I got from the real thing. I’m sad to say there weren’t as many admirable individuals in Division, though a few of them stand out from the beer-guzzling, chaw-spitting masses. Those are the guys I think of often…and smile to myself when I remember some of the crazy, stupid stuff we did. Leon Campbell is modeled after one of those paratroopers.

     Part of why I take the time to develop the characters in my books is because my photos of the real-life guys have been lost forever. The next best thing I can do is paint a picture in the reader’s mind—not just of what they looked like, but what they were.

     No real human being’s life plays out like a men’s adventure novel, so if you were to meet my old buddies, they probably wouldn’t live up to the badass rendering I give them in my fiction. But even though I want both Tier Zero and Hell and Gone to entertain with gobs of rip-snorting action, I’d like them to be something more than that, too. If I’ve been successful, it’s thanks to my old buddies, and the attempt to somehow capture their essence—despite the missing photographic records of them.

 

 

Henry (Hank) Brown is the author of Hell and Gone, Tier Zero and Virtual Pulp: Tales of High Adventure, Low Adventure, and Misadventure. To get up-to-speed on the blog tour and how to win the e-reader or other prizes, visit his Two-Fisted Blog.

###
  
     Thanks for the guest post, Henry! I hope you enjoyed writing it as much as we did reading it.
I'd like to ask our readers to check out Tier Zero on Amazon by clicking here.
Also be sure to check out Henry's other works, Hell and Gone and Virtual Pulp!

     See you all next time. Thanks again, Henry! Good luck and good writing!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Horror Short Story: Monster


 
 
     Okay. Christmas is over. The tree is finally down and it's time to get back to it. Here's a flash fiction horror piece for your enjoyment.
     It may be fiction, but I think we've all met someone like this. Makes you wonder...
 
 
 
 
 
MONSTER

by

 R.A. Mathis

 

This is her favorite restaurant. The low light and soft music ooze romance. I know she’s hungry enough to devour half the menu, but she orders sparingly; always afraid of what others think of her – especially me.

She’s beautiful, but refuses to let herself believe it. She looks at me with those perfect, sparkling eyes. It’s no wonder I was drawn to her. I meet her gaze as I take her hand and gently kiss her velvet soft skin. She’s breathtaking: the lithe frame, bountiful bosom, the silky hair pulled up to reveal the elegant nape of her neck. Her loveliness washes over me like cool water on a sweltering August day.

Every man in the room stares at her with lust-filled eyes. I know their thoughts. They all believe she’s out of their league. They’re right. All but one. He sits alone at the bar. Fair hair and deep blue eyes set in a comely face belie his true nature. He’s in search of prey.

For centuries humanity has known about his sort. Some, like this one, hunt women. Others hunt men, the old, or children – anyone they can worm their way into. Folklore has called his kind by many names. Fiend. Demon. Vampire. The closest to the truth is incubus. This beast wants to drain the life from her, but he doesn’t crave blood. His taste isn’t so crude. He feeds on pain and despair. He wants a part of her soul. He doesn’t kill his prey, but he might as well. He drinks his fill of the essence and leaves an empty shell. No doubt you’ve seen victims; miserable, self-loathing wretches devoid of hope, stripped of their youth, innocence, and humanity. The walking dead.   Many end up finishing the job themselves – a razor blade, a handful of pills. He is a predator. And right now, he’s eyeing her like a snake stalking a baby bird fallen from its mother’s nest.

He knows what I know. He sees what lies beneath her Venus-like façade. The vulnerability born of abuse and rejection are concealed under a mask of cosmetics and feigned smiles. Like me, he smells her secret panic at being the center of attention. He tastes her desperation for love and acceptance. His hunger is almost palpable.

He also recognizes my weakness. The smattering of gray in my hair and fine lines around my eyes embolden him. He challenges me. He wants her. He wants to feed, but I won’t let him. I answer his threat. Neither of us moves. No one notices the confrontation. The subtle battle of wills is imperceptible to all but our kind. I may be weakened, but I can hold my own against the likes of him. I cast a warning glare at my opponent. He recognizes his likeness in me and turns away in submission to the alpha male.

I win. She’s mine.

No one will steal what it’s taken me months to build. She was broken when I found her crying in the alley behind that nightclub downtown. I began patiently putting the pieces back together – convincing her to trust again. I fed her equal parts hope and humiliation – backhanded compliments and half-hearted apologies. I took just enough of her to sustain myself until the feast. Making her feel pretty but not too pretty. Smart but not too smart. Always keeping her optimistic but never confident enough to stand on her own.

She thinks I’m going to propose to her.  I see the fragile optimism in her eyes. She has allowed herself to hope. Perfect. I look deeper and see the fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of disappointment. Fear that she’s not good enough. The taste is so intoxicating I find it difficult to focus. She’s ready – a calf fattened for slaughter. It’s time to feed.

“There’s something I need to tell you.”

She smiles expectantly. “Yes, baby?”

“It’s over.”

Delicious tears come to her eyes. “What do you mean?”

“I mean us. We’re over. I’m leaving you,” I say coldly.

“But, why?”

“It’s not working out. I tried, but you’re just not the person I thought you were.” I add for good measure, “You should also know that I’ve been sleeping with you best friend.”

She’s sobbing uncontrollably now. People are staring. I whisper, “Pull yourself together. You’re making a scene.”

The rejection and public embarrassment are more than she can stand. Then it happens.

I hear her heart break. I ravenously sup the soul that comes spilling out. It is exhilarating. I squeeze out every last drop of exquisite pain. I’m engorged nearly to bursting.

I sit and watch her a moment more and then say, “It’s okay. You’ll meet someone else.” I glance at the hungry blue eyes at the bar. “Maybe sooner than you think.”

On my way out, I brush past my would-be adversary. “She all yours.”

By morning I’ll be rejuvenated – gray hair and wrinkles gone. Strong again. Tomorrow night, I’ll start again in search of some poor, vulnerable girl waiting for a white knight to save her.

###

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dystopian Short Story: Retirement Day


RETIREMENT DAY

by

 R.A. Mathis

 

 

            Me and Grampa are eating breakfast together like we do every day. But today is special. I say, “Happy birthday, Grampa!” and give him a big hug.

He squeezes me tight and asks, “Do you know how old I am today, Jenny?”

            “Yup! You’re fifty-five, but I’m still eight.”

            “Do you know what that means?”

            “Today is your retirement day!”

            “That’s right.”

            “It also means we get to have a party!”

            “Yeah. I guess it does.”

            I’ve never seen a birthday party before. Grampa always tells me stories about when he was my age. He says they used to have a party for every birthday back then. They also used to have these things called kars and playnes that people used to go all over the place on things called vaykashuns. Grampa said he even got to see the oshun a few times. The farthest I’ve ever been is the wire fence around our apartment building.

            Sometimes Grampa draws me pictures of the places he saw when he was little. There are places with beautiful cities, green mountains, and blue water that stretches out as far as you can see. I keep them all under my mattress. They’re my favorite things in the whole world. I don’t think the places are real. I think Grampa makes them up just for me, but I never tell him that.

            Grampa doesn’t seem very happy about retiring. He’s been in his room for hours.

            There’s a knock at the door and Mommy opens it. There’s a man in a suit like the ones on tv. He has two of the scary black helmet men with him – the ones that watch us from the towers along the fence outside.

            The man in the suit smiles and says, “AF8075342631?”

            Mommy just stares at him.

            He smiles again and says, “I’m here for Mister Abner Finch. Serial number AF8075342631.”

            Grampa comes out of his room and says, “I’m Abner.”

            The smiling man says, “Of course you are. On behalf of our Generous Community Director, Benevolent Provincial Authority, and the Glorious Leader, I present your retirement feast.” He pushes a cart with a bunch of plastic containers on it into our apartment. “Happy retirement day! You are required to report to the courtyard for transport in three hours.” Then he and the others leave.

            It’s the first time I’ve ever had real meat. Mommy takes the roll from the plastic tube and cuts some slices. She puts two of the gray circles on my plate. There’s another container of yellow mush labeled ‘corn.’ Some green mush labeled ‘peas.’ Some white mush labeled ‘potatoes.’ Grampa taught me how to read. It’s our secret. He says I’d get in big trouble if anybody found out.

It’s the best meal I’ve ever had, but it’s not the way I imagined a birthday party. I’m the only one smiling. Mommy has the same stare she always does. She looks at me, but doesn’t really see me.

The last thing Mommy opens is the ‘cake’ container. It’s just big enough for all of us to have a piece, but I get two. Grampa gives me his. He’s not hungry.

            After the party, Grampa calls me into his room. It’s small. There’s just enough room for me to sit by him on the edge of his bed. He reaches under his mattress and says, “I have a present for you.” He hands me some small square papers. They have pictures on them. The edges are crumbly and yellow. “Don’t let anybody know you have these. I hate to think what they’d do to you if they found out.”

I ask, “Did you draw these?”

Grampa smiles. “No, these are called photographs. My father took them with a camera when I was your age.”

“Kam-a-ra?”

“It was a machine that drew exact pictures of whatever you looked at.” The fotografs look like the pictures Grampa drew for me. “I know you don’t believe these places are real, but they are – or were. See? That’s me next to the big tree. And that’s my brother and our mother.” His eyes look sad. “They were real, too.”

“Thank you Grampa, but I can’t keep these. You should take them with you when you retire.”

“No, they’re yours now. I won’t have any use for them where I’m going.” He presses them into my little hands.

            “My friend Katie says retirement means that they cut you open and take all the parts they can use then grind the rest of you up to make Nutrifeed. Is it true?”

            Grampa pats me on the head. “Let’s go outside for a nice walk before I have to go.”

            From the courtyard I can see other buildings through the wire in the fuzzy distance. Most are buildings like ours. Others I don’t know. But I know one of them is the retirement center. The wind is blowing from that direction today. It smells like dead things.

            The retirement bus rolls in the gate and stops close to us. It’s almost time.

            I ask Grampa again, “Are they really going to turn you into Nutrifeed?”

            Grampa hugs me tight and whispers, “Promise me you’ll find a way out of here. Promise me you’ll find the places in our pictures.”

            He’s crying. I am, too. “I promise, Grampa.”

            He kisses my forehead. “Don’t forget the things I taught you. Teach them to your children and their children.”

            “I will, Grampa.”

            “You’ll have to be very strong. Can you do that for me?”

            “Yes, Grampa.”

            “I love you.”

            “I love you too, Grampa.”

            He tells me to stay put and gets on the bus. So do a few others.

            I eat breakfast alone the next morning. His chair is empty. I want to cry, but I won’t. I have to be strong for Grampa. I will find a way out, but not today.

Today I’ll just be strong and eat my Nutrifeed like a big girl.