Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the month “February, 2013”

Little Quotes That Teach – Roger Ingalls

Freedom

“There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free, or you are not free.” Walter Cronkite

“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself.” Jim Morrison

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” Abraham Lincoln

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” John F. Kennedy

“The secret to happiness is freedom and the secret to freedom is courage.” Thucydides

Politics

“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” Mark Twain

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Plato

“We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.” Aesop

“We have, I fear, confused power with greatness.” Stewart Udall

Religion

“The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.” Thomas Paine

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Albert Einstein

“Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.” Dalai Lama

“It is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read.” Thomas Jefferson

“Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy the mad daughter of a wise mother. These daughters have too long dominated the earth.” Voltaire

Peace

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace.” Jimi Hendrix

“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Mahatma Gandhi

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. Peace begins with a smile.” Mother Teresa

“Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all.” George Washington

Closing Arguments

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” Plutarch

“All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.” Winston Churchill

“Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men.” Confucius

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

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Remembering Ilan Ramon

Sometimes it is hard to forget that Israel is such a tiny country. It takes six hours to drive from the most northern point to the southern border with Egypt. I’m told you can fit 250 States of Israel into Texas. Our population is considerably smaller than New Jersey.

So when one of us excels in something we are all proud. I remember Maccabi Tel Aviv winning the European Basketball Championship or when Israeli soldiers rescued the prisoners at Entebbe.

So you can forgive us getting extremely excited when one of our own was chosen to fly into space – to boldly go where no Israeli has gone before.

imgresIlan Ramon was chosen to join the ill-fated space shuttle payload specialist of STS-107, the fatal mission of Columbia, in which he and six other crew members were killed in the re-entry accident.

He was a man acutely aware of his place in history and the weight of his people on his shoulders. Ramon asked the 1939 Club, a Holocaust survivor organization in Los Angeles, for a symbol of the Holocaust to take into outer space with him. A barbed wire mezuzah by the San Francisco artist Aimee Golant was selected.

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Against all odds, or perhaps a divine act, several pages of his journal impossibly survived. Curator Yigal Zalmona said: “The diary survived extreme heat in the explosion, extreme atmospheric cold, and then “was attacked by microorganisms and insects. It’s almost a miracle that it survived — it’s incredible. There is ‘no rational explanation’ for how it was recovered when most of the shuttle was not, he said.”[

Ramon wrote on the last day of the journal: “Today was the first day that I felt that I am truly living in space. I have become a man who lives and works in space.”

An entire nation mourned the tragedy. Three days later my second son was born. Asif Ilan never knew his namesake, but he proudly tells people of the man he was named after ten years ago, a man who reached for the stars.

We remember Ilan Ramon.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.

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Classism is Alive and Well on the Airlines – Tom Rossi

Unfortunately, my wife and I have to fly on the airlines a fair amount because we have family in various locations, including Europe.

Aboard a commercial airplane, the quality of the seat that you get depends on how much you are willing, and/or able, to pay. People with enough money sit in large, comfortable seats with plenty of room, while sardines, like us, get canned with some olive oil, sandwiched together in each other’s laps.

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But it doesn’t end there. People in first class or business class get better food and better drinks, including perks like free champagne. They also get their own, dedicated flight attendants – the best ones, who treat their passengers like royalty instead of cattle on their way down the chute to be “bolted.”

First and business class passengers are allowed to board the plane first, so that they can be sure to have enough space in theoverhead luggage compartments for their carry-ons and jackets and so that they can get comfortable and… drink a glass of champagne.

First and business class passengers have their own bathrooms, where the “riff-raff” are not allowed. After all, we usually carry diseases and various and sundry types of filth. And it doesn’t end there!

In the terminal, before passengers even get near an actual airplane, the upper-classes (and sometimes coach passengers who have paid to join an airlines “elite club,” or something like that) don’t have to stand in long lines, no sir-ree. They have their own line with their own attendants. And they actually get tended to by a real human-being, whereas the poor folk wait for an hour to fight with a robot and wait their turn to get help from the one ticketing agent on slum duty.

No, this is not the New York Stock Exchange.

No, this is not the New York Stock Exchange.

Then, the elite are swept into their private club-waiting-areas, where they don’t have to risk rubbing shoulders with the unwashed masses. They then magically appear to board the plane, before their admirers.

So what, you say? People who pay more get more. That’s the way things work. Well, that’s just fine. Capitalism at work. What bothers me about this is that the price differential between these levels, hell vs. heaven, is so, incredibly huge and unreasonable. Why can’t the airlines use some of the outrageous profits they extract from the superior beings to make life at least tolerable for the rest of us? Why can’t they cut their shareholder dividends by 1% so that coach passengers aren’t inhaling the hair of the person in the seat in front of them? Couldn’t they put just a little more padding in the seats?

I spent $160, after our last flight to Europe, for a chiropractor to literally straighten my ass out. My seat was incredibly uncomfortable (although I have to say that the staff on our Air France flights were very nice). Of course, this isn’t nearly enough that I could have just avoided this by buying a business class ticket.

The real purpose of the disparity between ticket categories is not to pay for extra room and services; the purpose is the separation, itself. The same principle behind the country club. While this principle doesn’t necessarily apply to every member, the purpose of a country club is to have a haven, away from home, where one is not at risk of contact with the working class.

First or even business class seats on an airline usually cost ten times what a coach seat costs. Is that to cover the cost of a glass of champagne? Is it to cover the cost of selling only four seats per row instead of 6? No. The supply side of the supply and demand equation is irrelevant, here. That price is what some people are willing to pay for a little more comfort, and a lot less exposure… to the untouchables of society – you and me.

The point here is that separation has almost no cost of production. In other words, it’s almost pure profit. The airlines charge $9,000 extra for a seat in business class, and for that they provide a little more space, some champagne, and some pampering. The cost of all this is certainly nowhere near this price. But this money get’s sucked out of the system in the form of almost-untaxed (especially with multinational corporations) capital gains for investors. That’s why it’s not used to improve travel for ALL passengers.

Some might say that things are this bad only because passengers shop by price alone. That they are obviously willing to suffer the indignities of flying coach in order to save money. Well, in our case, it’s family obligations that make us “willing.” If it weren’t for that, We’d only go on vacations that were within an hour’s drive.

At any rate, economics are so often used as justification for treating people like animals. Degrading others degrades the degrader. The airlines would only dignify themselves by dignifying their passengers, and doing away with the caste system. Unpack the sardines!

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Running with the Enemy…Forever

Running with the Enemy is the latest offering from Lloyd Lofthouse, author of My Splendid ConcubineI thought to review the book, but Lloyd is my publisher and mentor. Given the controversies currently surrounding reviews, I think it easier to present (with his permission) the first chapter and let you be the judge.

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A word, however, about Lloyd: He served in Vietnam in the Marines and I can only imagine how difficult it is to return there in your mind when writing a novel. As I sent him chapters of Unwanted Heroes, a story about an Asian-American war veteran battling his PTSD seen through the eyes of a young Englishman who befriends him, I often wondered how Lloyd would cope with it. It took a lot of courage to return there, but as one war veteran said after reading Unwanted Heroes: it is a story that must be told.

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In this suspense thriller set during the Vietnam War, a rogue CIA agent needs someone to blame for his crimes. Recon Marine Ethan Card is the perfect patsy. As a teen, Ethan ran with a Chicago street gang, and he has a criminal record. He also has a secret lover, Tuyen, who is half Vietnamese and half French.
 
Tuyen is also a beautiful Viet Cong resistance fighter.
 
Since she was a young child, Tuyen has lived under the brutal control of her older, sexually abusive half-brother, Giap, a ruthless and powerful Viet Cong leader, who has forced her to kill Americans in battle or die if she refuses.
 
When Ethan discovers he is going to be court marshaled for weapons he did not sell to the Viet Cong and Tuyen will be arrested and end up in an infamous South Vietnamese prison, where she will be tortured and raped, he hijacks a U.S. Army helicopter and flees with Tuyen across Southeast Asia while struggling to prove his innocence.
 
The CIA agent and Giap—working together with the support of an unwitting American general—will stop at nothing to catch the two, and the hunt is on.
 
The star-crossed lovers travel across Laos to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat; to Bangkok, Thailand, and then to Burma’s Golden Triangle where Ethan and Tuyen fight a ruthless drug lord and his gang.
 
In the rainforests of Burma, Ethan also discovers that a massive assault is planned on his Marine unit’s remote base in South Vietnam with the goal of killing the man he admires most, Colonel Edward Price, who is the only one who believes Ethan is innocent.
 
Ethan must risk everything to save Price and his fellow Marines. Will he succeed?

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Running with the Enemy – Chapter One

On April 11, 1880, General William Tecumseh Sherman addressed a crowd of more than ten thousand in Columbus, Ohio, and said, “There is many a body here today who looks on war as glory, but, boys, it is all hell.”

 ***

       

         His lover—a member of the National Liberation Front—was trained to kill Americans. It was possible that she had already killed some of his people, but that wasn’t going to stop him from wanting more of her.

        

         Ethan Card stared out the sunken pit of a broken window at the grounds of the former French colonial rubber plantation, which the South Vietnamese rainforest was reclaiming. Columns of mature, struggling rubber trees marched away from the dying house as if they were soldiers fighting a losing war. A patch of blue sky was still visible, but the rest was an angry blanket of dark clouds.

 

 When the French ruled Vietnam, Ethan thought, this place must have been something.

He heard the distant popping of a firefight that signaled combat and wondered who was dying: Viet Cong, North Vietnamese, Americans, South Koreans, ARVN, or Chinese communists?

The scuttle of a tiny, hard-shelled monster on the gray, wood floor of the second-story room distracted him. He knelt and flicked the insect away; watched it roll into a ball then, slipping into a crack, disappear into the floor.

 

The house creaked and he shivered. Before returning to the olive-green GI blanket spread on the floor behind him, Ethan looked around warily. Something did not feel right, and he paid careful attention to his warrior instincts.

 

He sensed Tuyen’s movement and glanced at the blanket where she lay nude on her stomach—her face cradled on her arms. Her long, dark, glossy hair hid most of her features. She was French, Vietnamese and Thai. At least that was what she had told him. There were other indications, as well.

In the village where they met, a Vietnamese woman called her a French bastard behind her back. He was sure Tuyen had heard and ignored it.

 

Her height and aqua eyes were French, but the rest was Asian. She was tall for a Vietnamese with the slender body of a fashion model. Admiring her nudity, he knelt and traced a line between her shoulder blades down her spine with his finger tips, stopping just above her hips.

 

Her silky, warm skin excited him causing his heart to race and his breath to catch in his throat. The urge to make love again was tempting, but they had already been in the deserted house too long.

 

“Why you fuck woman that fight with your enemy?” she asked in broken English.

 

“Because you told me you are not a communist,” he said. “Why are you fucking me?”

 

“Maybe you go home to America and replace me with other woman,” she replied.

 

He loved listening to her throaty, crude accented English.

 

“I am not a butterfly,” Ethan replied, “and, when I return to the United States, I’m taking you with me.” Otherwise, there wasn’t much for him in America but bad memories and a strict Evangelical Christian mother who often quoted Holy Scripture when lecturing him.

 

A loud creak sounded outside the shattered window. “What was that?” he asked, aware that discovery by either side would be disastrous for both of them.

 

A rumble of thunder shook the old house, and it started to rain. The fat drops pounded the leaky roof like a barrage of pebbles.

 

“It nothing,” she replied, as she rolled over on her back. “Only ghosts. This is old house.” Slipping an arm around his neck, she pulled him down on top of her.

 

Still, that creaking noise bothered him—it sounded as if someone had shifted weight from one foot to another. His combat sense warned him to listen closer, and when he did, he heard a rat scampering across the rotting attic floor above their heads.

 

“I think us together this morning too long,” she said.

 

“Maybe it is your Commie brother, Giap, spying on us.” He watched her features closely and noticed a quiver in her lips as heat climbed into her face at the mention of her half brother’s name.

 

“No,” she said, spitting her words out as if they were laced with cobra venom. “Giap recruiting in far village.”

 

Ethan knew that something dark and brooding existed between Tuyen and her half brother, but he couldn’t ask what it was. She had made it clear when the affair had blossomed months earlier that questions of her private life and family were forbidden. To cross that line could mean losing her, and she was his addiction—his opium.

 

Then as fast as the hate in her face had switched on, it vanished. “I loving you,” she said; then kissed him on the mouth. He felt a thrill shoot through his groin as her lips pressed against his. He should have stopped, but he couldn’t resist.

 

***

 

Victor Ortega picked up the pocket recorder from the windowsill and turned it off. He leaned against the wall and stared at the abandoned rubber plantation that spanned thousands of acres across hills where the jungle was still reclaiming the land. Raindrops from the swollen clouds pelted him. It was time to leave with his evidence.

 

A smile split his tanned, leathery face. Langley would not approve of him using his CIA skills to frame an innocent man. Ortega’s part-time business—the selling of weapons and information to the North Vietnamese Communists—had put Army intelligence on his trail. He needed a goat and Ethan and Tuyen fit the bill.

 

Ethan Card didn’t know it yet, but he was going to take the fall for Ortega’s illegal operations. Ortega had been watching several armorers, and because he had discovered Ethan fucking Tuyen, that link made him the perfect patsy. Card was having an affair with a member of the NLF who had a North Vietnamese Communist cadre leader for a brother. Who wouldn’t believe Card was guilty?

 

Using a miniature, silent camera, Ortega leaned into the window and took half a dozen pictures of the nude couple copulating for the third time.

 

Perfect! These photos would be the clincher. One shot had caught Ethan’s full profile and her face with eyes closed.

 

It was time for him to leave, and he had to be careful. Ethan was a recon Marine with a tiger’s senses. Ortega took a cautious step on the blue, rain-slick tiles of the veranda’s roof. He shifted his weight gently from one foot to the other. Then a crack sounded from one of the veranda’s tiles.

 

Oh, shit!

 

Icy fear shot through him galvanizing him into action. Moving quickly, he lay against the house below the window opening where the roof met the second-story wall. Holding his breath, he waited.

 

***

 

Ethan couldn’t dismiss the noise this time. He slipped from Tuyen’s embrace, rolled away from her across the floor and grabbed his forty-five caliber M3A1 submachine gun that he lovingly called his Greaser, because it fired four-hundred-fifty rounds a minute.

 

He waited until Tuyen had finished rolling the other way, picked up her AK-47 assault rifle and pointed it toward the offending window the sound had come from.

 

She nodded, and he darted toward the window to flatten himself against the wall next to it— his heart hammering from the rush of adrenaline.

 

Moving fast, he spun and aimed the Greaser out the window until he was flat against the wall on the other side. He stared at her and shook his head.

 

“We go,” she said, and gathered her clothing.

 

He watched her long, naked legs slide into black pants. “I can be here early tomorrow morning,” he said.

 

“Giap back. I no make it.” She slipped the black blouse over her head.

 

He was disappointed at losing sight of her naked body.

 

“We together in three days,” she said. “He gone again.”

 

He finished dressing, went to her, and placed a hand on each of her shoulders. They kissed.

They should have met in another time, another place where there was no war. He worried that someday what he had with her might end. That day would be a clusterfuck! There must be some way he could keep what he had with this lusty beauty.

 

***

 

Ortega, drenched from the rain and sweat dripping from his face, rolled down the veranda’s roof. He dropped easily over the side, twisted his body like a gymnast, and reached out to grab the edge of the roof above him. His brief grip with tiles slowed his momentum, and he landed easily on his feet. Turning right, he ran close to the house and sprinted for the trees.

 

***

 

An hour later, after driving miles through the rainforest, Ortega arrived at the United States Marine Corps recon base camp. Inside the fortified camp, he crept to the armorer’s van surrounded by stacked layers of sandbags.

 

The rain pounded the metal roof of the van, masking his entrance. Storage lined one wall of the long, narrow space and a workbench took up half the other wall. Shadows smothered the small desk at the far end of the van. To one side of the desk was a file cabinet that Ortega had searched a few times without Ethan’s knowledge. His eyes settled on Lance Corporal Wilson, Ethan’s assistant, who was bent over the bench working on a weapon. The man was an idiot; a fucking lowlife fool.

 

“Hey, man, did you pick up the fucking weapons at division?” Ortega asked.

 

Wilson yelped and jumped. “Asshole!” he said, and turned revealing the Ka-Bar he was holding close to his body with the blade’s edge facing Ortega.

 

Ortega laughed. “You’re such a fucking jerk.”

 

Wilson blushed and put the knife away. “They’re here.” He went toward the back of the van, returned with a crate, and put it on the bench. “It makes me nervous when you arrive this late to pick up the goddamned weapons. What if Ethan comes back early? What the hell would I say?”

“You worry too much, man.” Ortega reached into a pocket for a roll of South Vietnamese piasters, and threw the money on the counter.

 

“You bastard,” Wilson said. “I am taking all the risks. If Ethan find out what I’m doing, he’ll skin me alive. Do you know how crazy these fucking recon Marines are?”

 

“And do you know the strings I had to pull to get you, a regular piss-ant jarhead, assigned to this unit as its assistant armorer?”

 

Ortega stared with scorn at the lance corporal, and said, “Nothing will go wrong if you do as you are told.” He stopped talking and glanced at the wall clock behind the desk when a helicopter roared overhead. The thin metal roof of the van vibrated from the backwash. He knew it was the evening ass-and-trash flight to the division area at Chu Lai fifty miles away.

 

Once the noise of the slick was gone, Ortega continued. “You have nothing to worry about, alright, man? Soon, Ethan will be working for me.”

 

Wilson bared his teeth and pushed his face toward Ortega. “That’s easy for you to say. You don’t know the bastard. He lives by the rules.”

 

“It’s in the bag, man.” Ortega wrapped a poncho around the crate with the two M-60s in it. He shouldered the weapons and went to the door. “Now, cool it. Tonight I’ll make my pitch to Ethan. Then you won’t have anything to worry about.”

 

He left the van and went to his Jeep thinking he would have to kill Wilson soon. The man was unreliable and unstable.

 

***

 

Ethan returned from his business in Chu Lai to the recon base camp late in the afternoon. In his olive-drag Dodge M37 truck, he approached the steep narrow climb to the camp at the top of the orphan hill—an island fortress surrounded by rice paddies that in turn were surrounded by a dense rainforest.

 

A trailer-towing Jeep barreled down the dirt road toward him. Ethan automatically searched the paddies on either side for signs of life, hoping the demolition team had checked the road thoroughly that morning for buried explosive. Satisfied, he pulled his truck to one side, stopped, and waited for the Jeep to pass. His windshield wiper clicked back and forth clearing the raindrops from the glass.

 

He stiffened when he saw the man driving the Jeep. It was Ortega. The bastard had talked to him once—veiled, probing questions about weapons and how to requisition them. Ethan saw similarities between this man and members of Chicago’s Black P-Stone Nation street gang.  As a teen, Ethan knew Jeff Ford, who had united the leaders of about fifty street gangs in Chicago and called the new organization the Black P-Stone Nation.

 

In fact, Ethan had run with one of the smaller street gangs that joined Fort’s organization, and when Ethan told his fellow gangbangers he was leaving for good, they jumped him and beat him ruthlessly. He’d arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island bruised, limping and wearing torn and bloodstained clothing that didn’t impress the drill instructors. They rode him harder than the others for the next few weeks, but he welcomed the challenge and absorbed the discipline as if it were his salvation.

 

Ethan had been told that Ortega was a civilian liaison working with tribes living in the Central Highlands of Kon Tum Province, and that his job was to gain their loyalty to fight for America. However, the rumors also said he was CIA and had an army of Montagnards tucked away in the Annamite Mountains straddling the Laotian border with Vietnam.

 

***

 

Ethan inserted the M1911 Colt Forty Five’s new recoil spring as he finished reassembling the weapon, and then rubbed his hot, itchy eyes with the knuckles of his free hand. He had also replaced the barrel bushing to increase the weapon’s accuracy. The large wall clock showed three in the morning. He needed sleep, but there was too much to do. Lance Corporal Wilson was an expert at avoiding his job and seldom kept up with a day’s work.

 

Sensing movement behind him, Ethan reached for one of the twelve-inch throwing knives he kept on a shelf under the bench near his workstation. He glanced in a small steel mirror on the wall and looked at the face reflected in the polished metal.

 

“Shit!” He hissed. Putting the knife back, he picked up a rag and wiped his hands. “What do you want?” He faced Victor Ortega.

 

“We’re about to become fucking partners, man,” Ortega said.

 

“What the hell are you talking about?” There was something strange about Ortega’s voice. It sounded as though he had just smoked dope. Natasha, one of several girlfriends he had collected during his year in community college, had sounded that way after a few joints—something he never liked about her and one reason he dumped her before shipping out for his third tour in Vietnam.

 

Ortega spread half-a-dozen requisitions on the counter. “Take a good look at your name. These are fucking weapons you signed for, man.”

 

Ethan reached out, hesitating when the hill trembled from several artillery rounds going out. The roar of the mobile, armored one-hundred and fifty-five millimeter howitzers shook the hill and everything on it causing a thin haze of dust to rise from every surface.

 

When the battery stopped firing, Ethan took one of the papers and studied it. It was for two M-60 machine guns and the date was yesterday. “I never ordered these.”

 

“Of course you did. It’s your fucking signature. Look closer, man.”

 

The howitzers started firing again, and Ortega spoke louder. “I know for a fact that those weapons are in the hands of Viet Cong, and that there’s a bank account in Okinawa with your name on it. Check the fucking receipts in your file cabinet. They go back months. Some of those receipts are for weapons that have been found in the hands of dead Viet Cong.”

 

A cold shiver of disbelief invaded Ethan’s gut. His submachine gun was in reach, but the throwing knife was closer. “What the hell is this about?”

 

“These receipts say you’re going to fucking work for me, man. My customers want what you can supply. You are going to feed that demand. After all, the United States is a demand and supply economy. Anything for money. Say no, and I will hand these papers and others like them to Army intelligence. With your history as a member of a Chicago street gang, you’ll spend the next twenty years to life in a federal pen.”

 

Ethan couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He reached for his Greaser. “Wilson is mixed up in this, isn’t he?”

 

“Don’t be a stupid ass, man,” Ortega said, almost shouting to be heard over the roar of the howitzers. “I’m not in this alone, but I wouldn’t work with a fucking idiot like him.” The battery stopped firing leaving a sudden, shocking silence.

 

Ortega glanced behind him with disgust and lowered his voice to a near whisper. Instead of staring at the barrel of the submachine gun pointed at him, he looked into Ethan’s eyes. “Pull that fucking trigger and friends of mine will turn this evidence over to the Provost Marshall in Da Nang. It doesn’t matter if I’m dead. Your ass is still mine, man.”

 

Ethan tightened his finger on the trigger. It wouldn’t take much pressure to fire. “You’re bluffing.”

 

“Do it, man,” Ortega said, and rubbed the tip of an index finger along his top row of teeth. “Go ahead. You have all this fucking honesty and integrity to uphold.” His bark of laughter was chopped off short at the sound of troops running outside. Once the squad was gone, he said, “The people I work with are all over Southeast Asia. You want fucking power. You want fucking money. Join me and you will have both.”

 

Ortega moved closer to one of the storage racks and placed a hand on the barrel of an M-16. He caressed it as if it were a woman’s leg. “If the Army catches you moving the weapons, man, I’ll know it before they can get to you. When that time comes, I’ll set you up with a warlord in the opium trade in Laos near the Golden Triangle. That will put you hundreds of miles from Vietnam. The fucking Army cannot touch you there. That is a winning deal, man?”

 

“Fuck you.” But Ethan didn’t pull the trigger. “Maybe I should take you to the Colonel,” he said, “and give him these papers—let him hear what you want me to do.”

 

“That wouldn’t be smart, man,” Ortega said. “Do that and I’d tell him you caught me going through your files. The fucking rumors are true. I do work for the CIA. Who would they believe? You, a criminal that ran with street gangs in Chicago, or me, a career agent working to preserve democracy throughout the world?”

 

“I’m not going into business with you.”

 

“Well,” Ortega drawled, “there is the matter of a little Viet Cong pussy you’ve been banging. The way I see it, you love that slant-eyed snatch. The fucking Army will hear about her if anything happens to me or if you decide not to get with the fucking plan. She will look good sitting in that China Beach prison the ARVN keep for prisoners of war. Imagine what those South Vietnamese intelligence agents would do to her to make her talk.”

 

Rage pounded inside of Ethan’s skull, and he struggled to keep it under control. His finger twitched against the Greaser’s trigger.

 

The door creaked. Ortega slid into the shadows behind the door and vanished from sight.

 

Corporal Alex Smith stood in the opening staring at the submachine gun. With the night behind him, his face glowed as if he were a ghost. “Hey, Card, calm the fuck down and aim that thing away from me.”

 

Ethan’s friends called him by his last name.

 

 “You work too hard. I went to three fucking places looking for you before I came here. I should have known. Belamy is putting the team together. We are going to Laos to pick up a downed Navy pilot. The air-rescue boys can’t get to him so get a move on. The slick flies in five fucking minutes.”

 

Ethan stared at him with a dazed look.

 

“Did you hear me?” Smith said. “Are you fucking shit faced or something?”

 

“I haven’t slept for forty-eight hours,” Ethan said. “Don’t worry. I … will be there.”

 

Smith nodded and disappeared in the shroud of darkness outside the van.

 

“When you have had time to think,” Ortega whispered harshly, “you’ll see how hopeless your situation is. Just remember, evidence is everything, and in a military court, you will be dead meat. I got you, man. You belong to me.”

 

Ethan looked at the silhouette of the man in the dark corner. “I’m taking you to the Colonel.”

“The Colonel ain’t here,” Ortega said. “He’s off to that ARVN ranger camp near Kon Tum. You’ll be going there when you return from Laos. That is, if you don’t get yourself killed first. The way I see it, man, you have only one choice.”

 

Ethan didn’t want to deal with this now. He grabbed his gear for the mission and left the trailer in a rush. The noise of a helicopter approaching the hill grew in volume.

 

The mission wouldn’t give him time to think about Ortega’s demands. Every skill he had would be called on to keep him and the team alive. There was no half effort in terrain controlled by an invisible enemy that wanted you dead. Maybe when he returned, if he survived, he would discover this was nothing but a nightmare—a joke or something. However, the anger and frustration filling him said Ortega’s threats were real.

 

***

 

After his confrontation with Ethan, Ortega flew in a Cobra gunship to the highland ARVN ranger camp.

 

Back in Puerto Rico in that fucking San Juan slum where he grew up, Ortega’s father had taught him how to read a person’s body language, and Ortega’s instincts said Ethan wasn’t going to cooperate.

 

He needed the Army to back off their investigation of the stolen weapons. Because Ethan wasn’t going to cooperate, Ortega decided to hand him over, and he would earn credit for solving the Army’s case, while staying in business.

 

He watched the sun splash brilliant colors across the horizon. The high mound of dirt to his right surrounded the camp and hid the bottom of the rainforest from his view. Logs and concertina wire ringed the top of the mound.

 

The tall, thin figure of Colonel Edward Price jogged into sight. Price, an African American, was in his forties with close-cropped dark hair peppered with white. Sweat soaked his camouflaged clothing.

 

“Colonel,” Ortega said, remembering that his old man taught him it was best to talk cultured when around people with money or power.

 

The Colonel stopped, but his legs continued to pump as he ran in place. Obviously, Price had been running for some time, and Ortega saw that he wasn’t the slightest bit winded.

 

“I thought it only right to let you know what one of your men has been up to.” Ortega took several forged requisitions and the photos of Ethan and Tuyen having sex and handed them to the Colonel.

 

Price’s legs stopped moving. His granite face remained expressionless as he studied the papers and the photos. “That’s Ethan Card,” he said. “Where did you get these?”

 

“Colonel, division will be contacting you today or early tomorrow,” Ortega said. “They want Ethan Card for selling weapons to the Viet Cong, and he will be court-martialed.”

 

“This cannot be true,” Price said. “Card is a good man.”

 

“General LaBourne in Da Nang feels differently. His people have been trying to find the traitor for months. Americans have been murdered by weapons Ethan Card sold to the Viet Cong. I recorded a conversation between Ethan and a Viet Cong woman that is his contact. There’s also a bank account in Okinawa in his name with too much money in it.”

 

Price lifted his gaze from the papers and pinned Ortega with his cold, gray eyes. “I know my men. I know Ethan Card. I don’t believe this crap.” He dropped the papers and the photos to the ground and resumed jogging without looking back.

 

Ortega knelt, picked up the evidence and smiled. He was pleased. The Colonel had reacted as predicted. With Price primed and angry, Ortega would now arrange through his contacts to make sure General LaBourne called the Colonel to Da Nang. The General was an Arkansas bigot. He and Price had a history stretching back to World War II. Once the two met, Ortega might as well order Ethan’s body bag.

 

______________________________

Running with the Enemy can be purchased at any of the following outlets:

Amazon Kindle

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Amazon.com

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Let’s Hear It for the Girls – Roger Ingalls

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard by now that Danica Patrick has won the pole for this year’s Daytona 500 stock car race. Yes, a female drove her racecar faster than all the boys in NASCAR’s premier event at its premier level of competition.  The Daytona 500 is NASCAR’s equivalent to the NFL’s Super Bowl. In the automotive racing world, this is a big deal.

Danica

Danica has driven in ten Sprint Cup Series races (NASCAR’s premier series) and is considered a rookie for the 2013 season. She will also become the first woman to compete in a full season of races at NASCAR’s highest level and has already established herself as the most successful female racer in Sprint Series history. Danica is not the first woman to race at this level. In 1949, Sara Christian participated in NASCAR’s inaugural race and three women drove in the second official event (Sara Christian, Ethyl Mobley and Louise Smith). However, it would take 27 years for the first professional female racer to competitively race at NASCAR’s highest level when Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify and race on a superspeedway (Event: World 600). She would finish 15th.

Janet

Janet Guthrie should be considered American’s First Woman of Automotive Racing. She was the first female to qualify and compete in both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500; the worlds biggest racing events. Janet would go on to race in 33 of NASCAR’s premier events finishing as high as sixth. She also went on to compete in eleven Indy car races including three Indianapolis 500s. Between 1955 and 1976, no women competed at racing’s highest levels until Janet Guthrie reopened the door. It wasn’t easy. During the 70s, the big boys in NASCAR did not hide their opposition to female racers. For her on track accomplishments and success maneuvering the off track barriers, Janet Guthrie is a true racing pioneer.

Should Danica Patrick win this Sunday’s Daytona 500, it would be pretty cool. Let’s give a shout out to the racing ladies: Danica, Janet Guthrie and the original gals of the late 40s and early 50s.

Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training

My latest novel, Unwanted Heroes, highlights how many of our war veterans fail to cope with returning to civilian life and the fast-developing urban centers in particular.

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Colin Archipley, a decorated Marine Corps infantry sergeant and his wife, Karen, run a small, organic farm, Archis Acres, near Valley Center, California, where they offer a program called: Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT). The idea is to use agriculture as a transitional period between army/marines and civilian life.

In addition to learning how to work the land in a sustainable way, the men and women receive lectures about various niche business options for the modern small-holdings farmer. Their goal is to revitalize the rural farming industry by providing tools for young people who understand discipline and hard work.

There are two challenges being addressed here. One is the reabsorption of soldiers into civilian life, and the other is to provide a meaningful and economically viable option for the returning soldier.

Even if these young men and women do not continue to work as farmers, the work itself can be extremely grounding. On my kibbutz, (an intentional community) we used to bring groups of children, traumatized from bombings and other acts of terror, to the kibbutz and they would help us make bricks out of a clay-like material that would later be used for experiments in alternative building. It was clear how calming and grounding such work could be.

Archi’s Acres is a great program, offering the opportunity for those who gave years of their life in service to find a meaningful and sustainable life. If you would like to consider a small gift to help fund the initiative, please click here.  Helping turn swords into plowshares is a positive step forward.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.

 

 

 

No More Tears? – Tom Rossi

I was just watching a “news” special, that smacked of being paid for, like many, seemingly real, news segments are, about eye health. It featured a series of ophthalmologists and optometrists that offered advice on various issues of the eye.

Some of these issues were serious, like macular degeneration. But a somewhat lengthy segment was about “chronic dry eye syndrome.”

The doctors offered several solutions to this irritating, and sometimes painful, problem – pills, operations… the usual medical stuff. But let me tell you about when I went to see an ophthalmologist about this type of problem.

bloodshot

My eyes were dry, itchy, and actually painful, in a half-achy, half-sharp sort of way. I was having trouble focusing on written words, and reading was getting to be really difficult. The ophthalmologist I went to was very young… I’d say she had probably graduated from med school within the last five years, at the most. She examined me thoroughly, listened to my descriptions, and then uttered an utter blasphemy – “Go home and put a hot, damp washcloth on your forehead and eyes for 15 minutes, three times a day, for three weeks.”

What?!?!? No pills? No surgery? No scheduled return visit? Are you insane? OK, I didn’t ask her that last one, but I incredulously asked, “Are you sure?” She said, “Yes.” I told her that the pharmaceutical companies would have her head. She laughed and agreed.

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My wife had been having similar symptoms, and so we tried the “treatment” together… and it worked. I was stunned, for several reasons. First, that such a simple regimen had fixed my problem. But most importantly, that my doctor had been willing to ignore what I call the “Pill Imperative.” She had also not even mentioned surgery at all.

My ophthalmologist’s treatment for this condition wasn’t supposed to be a one-time, permanent cure. It has to be repeated, every once in a while. But to tell the truth, neither my wife nor I followed the plan to the letter, and it still worked. We did about half the recommended hot washcloth treatments, and now do it about once every two months, or so.

I’ve decided not to give my doctor’s name, here, because I actually do think that it could bring negative attention to her from various medical regulatory bodies and/or pharmaceutical companies. But this episode illuminates a basic problem with our health care “system.”

Don't be a zombie.

Don’t be a zombie.

What’s wrong with our health care “system?” First, it’s not a “system” at all – it’s a bucket full of independent particles, more a gas than a fluid, each of which mainly exists to make money. There is a lot of good, of course. Many of those particles, while making money, do an excellent job and some of them actually care about people’s health. But what seems like a majority of doctors are all too ready to prescribe pills or surgery for almost any problem that a patient might have. Sometimes, this is due to an ignorant patient attitude, expecting pills and even, thanks to ridiculous advertizing on television, asking for medications by brand name.

Profits get sucked out of patients and insurance companies at several layers of the health care process, pushing the costs through the clouds, even while our bodies are increasingly assaulted by man-made toxins in the environment and in our food and water. These profits often leads to changes in the decision-making process concerning a patient’s care. Changes that are not based on the patient’s best interest.

The treatment prescribed by my ophthalmologist certainly won’t work for everyone. Sometimes pills and/or surgery are necessary or even urgent. There are many cases where an “alternative medicine” treatment just won’t get the job done, and could even cause a dangerous delay in getting the real medical attention that is needed.

But, in many cases, the first line of defense could be something simple and almost free. If you suffer from dry eyes, for example, you probably won’t die if you take a week or two to try this alternative treatment. Give it a shot, and if it doesn’t work, then you can go to a doctor and spend a bunch of money.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Doesn’t Shooting Osama bin Laden Deserve A Pension?

When I saw all the coverage regarding the U.S. Navy SEAL who shot and killed Osama bin Laden, I assumed we are in for some hyperbole. But I soon realized that what he is now experiencing what I have been writing about for some time, and what was the inspiration in writing Unwanted Heroes.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

The former SEAL who is identified as The Shooter’ claims in an interview with Esquire, that the U.S. government has abandoned him since he left the military last fall. His drive to spotlight how some of the U.S. military’s most accomplished soldiers are treated once they return to civilian life, is sad and a shame. He received no money for the interview.

But I wish to stress that whether you killed the world’s most-wanted terrorist or were any other cog in our huge military machine the issues of pension, health care, and protection for himself and his family, are the same. 

“…my health care for me and my family stopped. I asked if there was some transition from my Tricare to Blue Cross Blue Shield. They said no. You’re out of the service, your coverage is over. Thanks for your 16 years. Go f— yourself.”

It seems like the military did not appreciate “The Shooter” leaving the military four years  before the 20-year requirement for retirement benefits. They invested considerable time and money into training him and could have expected a few more missions as the return on investment.

Esquire understands that “the government provides 180 days of transitional health care benefits, but the Shooter was ineligible because he did not agree to remain on active duty in a support role or become a “reservist.” The magazine optimistically suggests that his weight will be at least eight months, though we know this can be much longer.

The hyperbole surrounding this SEAL is important. Leveraging his status to highlight the way we fail our soldiers when they return is an opportunity no activist would turn away from. As I mentioned, I hope he receives what he needs and in a timely fashion. But I also hope it will serve all army veterans and their need for swift help transitioning into civilian life.

When a young man or woman makes the decision to serve his/her country, s/he and their family need to understand that their country will stand by them and not discard them as a resource on a conveyor belt.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Occupy Movement Endorsed by Washington – Roger Ingalls

After listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address, I couldn’t stop smiling. Similarly, I grinned during the last few months of the presidential election. The Occupy Movement is routinely portrayed by mainstream media and conservatives as a failure; however, reviewing the political chatter during the recent elections and the President’s speech on Tuesday, the Occupy influence is front and center.

Prior to the Occupy Movement, there was no media or political focus on the destruction of the middleclass, tax breaks for the wealthy, tax loopholes for corporations or the disparity between the 1%ers and 99%ers. The movement brought attention to all these topics and they were the main sound bites throughout the entire election season. Fast forward to Tuesday and a significant portion of the President’s time was dedicated to Occupy topics: 1) rebuilding the middleclass, 2) increasing wages for many Americans, 3) returning a fair tax burden to the wealthy and big business, 4) closing tax loopholes for corporations and 5) stopping corporate off-shore cash hoarding.

Poll-favoring-raising-taxes-on-rich

When comparing the Tea Party and Occupy Movements, the latter has been much more beneficial to Middle America. The Tea Party has done nothing but create gridlock in Washington, slowing economic recovery. They’ve also placed political handcuffs on Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner. He’s ineffective because the fanatical right is holding the larger conservative party hostage. Even though the Occupy Movement hasn’t received due credit, its original talking points are on the tongues of politicians today. In addition, a fairer tax burden was realized in January when taxes were increased on the wealthy; an original Occupy demand.

The media is no longer discussing the Occupy Movement but Washington’s politicians are endorsing it through action and sound bites.

Israel’s Election – A Path To Peace?

Israel went to the elections last month. Democracy is a beautiful thing to behold, especially in the Middle East. At the time of writing the parties are swiftly forgetting their pre-election promises and shamelessly bartering to be in the ruling coalition or in the vanguard of the opposition. It is a depressing process fit more as a soap opera than the establishment of a government.

Friends here in the US  ask me what the outcome of the elections might have on the peace process? It is difficult to answer because this election was never about foreign policy. There is a general consensus in Israel that there is no one to negotiate with, that every initiative is snubbed before anyone sits around the table. The instability in Egypt and the dreadful civil war in Syria (both border-sharing neighbors) do not add any sense of urgency to move the peace process forward. There is a sentiment that if a peace treaty is negotiated with one body, will they still be responsible for it six months later? After the recent campaign against Hamas in Gaza, the question isn’t whether they will return to launching missiles into Israel, but when. Partners for peace?

Israel’s economy has suffered in a similar way to the US. They saw an Occupy Movement emerge before it happened here in the US and the economy was the focus.

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I understand the need to shore up the economy. Israel suffers from a huge gap between richest and poorest. At some point when I was living there, it was greater than anywhere in Europe.

Benjamin Netanyahu has two options: a right wing government that includes many extremist elements and there is no peace process, or a coalition with the center and moderate left. While Netanyahu is perceived to have lost considerable ground to the center and left as a rejection of his tight fiscal policy, there is one important glimmer of light in all this.

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A right wing hawk with the help of the left and center signed peace with Egypt. If Israel can find a stable Palestinian leadership to negotiate with, perhaps there is a window of opportunity for peace.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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