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My Books

This is the post excerpt.

I have been writing since I was six years old. I now have six novels and seventeen stories in print.

My first published book, Friendly Casualties, was a novel in short stories derived from experiences in the thirteen years I trundled between the U.S. and Vietnam to provide signals intelligence support to U.S. Army and Marine combat units fighting in South Vietnam. The first half of the book is a series of short stories in which characters from one story reappear in another. The second half is a novella that draws together all the preceding tales. Originally published as an ebook, Adelaide will be publishing a hard copy version in June 2022.

No-Accounts came from my years of caring for AIDS patients. It tells the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS. I got into helping men with AIDS to help me cope with the horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. When I was with my patients, men suffering more than I was, my unbearable memories went dormant.

Next came The Trion Syndrome. It begins with the Greek Trion legend about a demigod so brutal to the vanquished that the gods sent the Eucharides, three female monsters, to drown him. The protagonist, Dave Bell, is haunted by half-remembered visions of the war in Vietnam. At his lowest point, he recalls that he killed a child. Dave considers suicide, but a young man appears and helps him. It is his illegitimate son, a child he had tried to kill through abortion, who now helps him find his way home.

Last of the Annamese was published in March 2017. I used this novel to confront my memories of the fall of Saigon from which I escaped under fire. Once again, the image of the boy-child recurs, as the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, a retired Marine, grieves over the loss of his son, killed in combat in Vietnam. He returns to Vietnam as a civilian intelligence analyst after the withdrawal of U.S. troops and encounters Vietnamese boys whom he tries to save during the conflagration.

Secretocracy, published in March 2020, tells the story of an federal intelligence budgeteer persecuted by the Trump administration because he refuses to approve finds for an illegal operation. Coming to Terms, out in August 2020, is a new collection of short stories about people trying to work through the downturns in their lives.

The IRS (2)

Who is responsible for crippling the IRS? According to House of Representatives Budget Committee 2021 Year-End Report, “Republicans have politically targeted and vilified the [IRS] agency for decades as part of their tax-cut agenda. After Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1995 and Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House, calls to abolish the IRS became a mainstream Republican talking point. Soon after, the Republican‑controlled Senate held a series of dramatic hearings on alleged abuses by the IRS (later debunked by the Government Accountability Office), followed by a new law limiting the agency’s collection powers and independence.” Overall, funding cuts have led to the elimination of 22 percent of IRS staff.

What can we citizens do about the IRS failures? Push our Congressmen and Senators to give the IRS the attention it deserves and increase its funding. Members of Congress respond to the people that elect them. That’s us. Let’s do it.

The IRS

With tax season approaching, my attention turns to the IRS. According to Wikipedia, “The Internal Revenue Service is the revenue service for the United States federal government, which is responsible for collecting taxes and administering the Internal Revenue Code, the main body of the federal statutory tax law.” The IRS was founded in 1862. As of 2019, the most recent date for which figures are available, it employed 74,454 people and had a budget of $11.303 billion.

The IRS is best known for its failings. It is slow in processing tax returns and unresponsive to taxpayers. Every year it seems to get worse. That’s because Congress keeps reducing its budget. In 2010, the IRS budget was $14 billion. That was reduced to $12 billion in 2017 and to $11.3 billion in 2019. The chronic underfunding of the IRS poses one of the most significant long-term risks to tax administration today, including reduced revenue collection, impaired taxpayer rights, and greater taxpayer burden.

But while the IRS budget was being reduced, the taxpaying public it serves was enormous. In 2018, 144.3 million taxpayers reported earning $11.6 trillion in adjusted gross income and paid $1.5 trillion in individual income taxes. The population of the U.S.—and therefore its number of taxpayers—grows every year.

The result? Multiple problems according to a variety of sources. The IRS is unable to answer millions of taxpayer telephone calls; it is unable to timely process taxpayer correspondence; the “tax gap”—the amount of tax due but uncollected—stands at nearly $400 billion each year; taxpayers believe the tax laws are not being fairly enforced against others; and the federal budget deficit is unnecessarily large.

More next time.

Two Distortions (3)

More about the U.S. Senate: Citizens from the smallest, Republican, and most conservative states that represent only 17 percent of the U.S. population can elect 51 senators and effectively rule the senate over the objections of the other 83 percent of us.  It only takes 42 senators from smallest states representing 10 percent of the population to uphold a filibuster and effectively block any legislation favored by the vast majority.  In no other western democracy is the potential for this kind of misrepresentation and minority rule so extreme.

The senate Republicans who blocked President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, represented 20 million fewer people than the Democrats who supported him.

So there we have it, two distortions of American democracy, the electoral college and the makeup of the senate, that punish the majority and reward the well-to-do Republican minority. Changing either of them will require a Constitutional amendment, a huge undertaking.

But we Americans can do it if we put our shoulders to the wheel. Let’s get started.

Two Distortions (2)

As a result of the electoral college, twice within this young century, Republican candidates who lost the popular vote have nevertheless won the electoral vote and been named president. In 2004, Democrat Al Gore came in second in the electoral vote but received 547,398 more popular votes than Republican George W. Bush, making him the first person since Grover Cleveland in 1888 to win the popular vote but lose in the Electoral College. Even worse, in 2016 election, Donald Trump, who four years earlier called the college “a disaster for democracy,” lost to Hillary Clinton by 2.9 million popular votes but won in the electoral college.

It is long since time that the electoral college be eliminated. How long must we allow the Republicans and racists to prevent its abolition?

And our system of representation by senators is equally undemocratic. The Constitution specifies that each state, of which we now have fifty, will have two senators representing it. That means that the 40 million people who live in the 22 smallest states get 44 senators to represent their views and interests.  The 40 million people in California get two. Nevada, next door to California with a population of three million, gets the same representation as California. This means a vote in Nevada is worth about 13 times as much as a vote in California.

The small state bias, like the electoral college, produces a Republican bias. That is because most small states tend to be overwhelmingly rural, white, and conservative. In the six-year election cycle that produced the 2019 Senate, the Democratic senators actually received 4.5 million more votes nationwide than the Republican senators. And, on average, each Democratic senator won 30 percent more votes than each Republican senator. And yet the Republicans won the majority of the seats and control of the Senate—a flagrant case of minority rule.

More next time.

Two Distortions

My beloved United States of America is severely compromised by two institutions that undermine democracy: the electoral college and the specification that each state, no matter its size, will have two senators. Both are required by the Constitution, and both would require a constitutional amendment to change.

The United States Electoral College was established by the 1789 U.S. Constitution as part of the process for the indirect election of the President and Vice-President of the United States. It was inserted by the framers of the Constitution as a last-minute deal, a gift to southern states trying to protect slaveholders’ power and leverage the “three-fifths compromise.” That was an agreement that three-fifths of the slave population in the southern states, none of whom were allowed to vote, would be counted for determining direct taxation and representation in the House of Representatives. Without the compromise, southern states would be consistently outvoted by the far more populous northern states. Hence the racist underpinnings of the electoral college.

The electoral college has been criticized since its establishment, and more than a century of attempts to replace it with a more democratic national popular vote have been thwarted by southern and Republican politicians looking to diminish the voting power of non-whites.

In 1823, Thomas Jefferson described the electoral college as “the most dangerous blot on our Constitution.” In the 1960s, Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee called it “a loaded pistol pointed at our system of government,” whose “continued existence is a game of Russian roulette.” New York Representative Emanuel Celler once called it “barbarous, unsporting, dangerous, and downright uncivilized.” In 2012, Donald Trump tweeted that the institution is “a disaster for a democracy.” Despite more than 700 legislative efforts to amend or abolish it, the Electoral College remains.

More next time.

Mozart’s Last Three Symphonies

Since childhood, when I first became enraptured with music, I have been in love with the last three symphonies that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote: number 39 in E♭ (KV 543), number 40 in G Minor (KV 550), and number 41 in C (KV 551, posthumously named Jupiter). I acquired 78 RPM recordings of each, later to be replaced with long-playing (LP) records, tape recordings, and, most recently, compact disks (CDs).

Each of the three is magical in its own way. Number 39, when it was written, was the apogee of symphonies, fulfilling the symphony form invented by Mozart’s contemporary Franz Joseph Haydn. The finale (last movement) is in the tempo of a rapid country dance and is the most “Haydn-like” movement.

The 40th is in a class by itself. Written in a minor key, it rebels against Haydn’s habit of sending the audience home happy by ending a minor symphony in the major. Mozart finishes the 40th firmly in the minor, mournful and severe.

The 41st is arguably the greatest symphony ever written. Its central key, C major, is the simplest with no sharps or flats in the key signature. The symphony’s themes are notable for their plainness. And yet, as writer Anna Bulycheva explains, “the finale [of the 41st] was to be the most important movement for the first time in the history of symphony music. Here Mozart demonstrates his skill of polyphony, endlessly blending the finale’s various themes in newer and newer combinations until, in the coda, all the individual elements eventually come together.”

Even though I have lived my entire life listening to these three symphonies, they continue to reveal new aspects of themselves with repeated hearings. Like Johann Sebastian Bach, who brought counterpoint (polyphony) to its acme, Mozart perfected the sonata form invented by Haydn. His use of that form in his last three symphonies remains unparalleled.

U.S. Gun Deaths

At the risk of repeating myself, I want to hammer home again the horror of gun deaths in the U.S. With 120.5 civilian-owned firearms per 100 people—we have more guns that people—the United States has the highest rate of civilian gun ownership and the highest number of gun deaths in the world. So far this year, we’ve witnessed 1,040 injuries and 1,433 deaths from gunfire. Last year saw over 40,000 injuries and 20,000 deaths from gunfire in the U.S. More numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

50 percent – That’s the percent of increase of gun deaths of children 14 and younger from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020.

15 percent – The amount of increase of gun deaths from 2019 to 2020.

#1 – And in the year 2020, gun violence was the number one leading cause of death for American children.

The argument that the U.S. is a gun culture is meaningless. To save over 20,000 lives annually, let’s change our culture. The way to do that is to reduce drastically the number of guns we have. The ratio between gun deaths and the number of guns in the hands of the citizenry is constant throughout the world. And yet it’s obvious to me that we as a nation are unwilling to change our culture to save lives.

What kind of people are we?

The Post Office

As a writer, I depend on the United States Postal Service (USPS) to deliver and carry my mail to and from publishers and others in the book business. I also use it to correspond with my friends and family, though far less these days than I did before email came along. Because of problems with the service caused by the Trump administration, I no longer take the USPS for granted. I did some research to learn more about it. Here’s what I found:

The USPS has an annual revenue of over $73 billion. It employs some 644,000 workers and operates 34,000 retail locations across the country. Most amazing, it delivers 48 percent of the world’s mail.

The current Postmaster General, that is, the head of the USPS, is Louis DeJoy, a multimillionaire named to job by the Board of Governors of the USPS in May 2020 at the behest of then-president Donald Trump. DeJoy was a generous contributor to Trump’s election campaign, and, as we learned, more than willing to sabotage the USPS operations in an effort to cripple vote-by-mail in the 2020 election in hopes that it would help Trump get reelected. That effort failed, but the damage to USPS operations was widespread and continues to this day.

President Biden can’t fire DeJoy. His removal from the job of Postmaster General can, by law, only be accomplished by the Board of Governors of the USPS. The majority of board members are still Trump supporters and refuse to fire DeJoy. Congress can appoint and dismiss USPS board members, but Republicans in Congress, who still support Trump, have so far blocked all efforts to change the composition of the board.

End result for me: mail to me is regularly delivered late; some days I get no mail. More than once, I have had to pay a late fee because a bill did not arrive on time or my payment delivery was delayed. Books sent to me for review are slow in transit. Copies of my books sent to others reach their destination late.

So we citizens of the U.S. are still paying the price for our election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Apparently, it will take a number of years to clean up the mess he created.

Columbia (2)

The Mall in Columbia, also known as the Columbia Mall, is the central shopping area for the city and the area around it. It has over two hundred specialty stores that include AMC Theatres, Main Event Entertainment, Barnes & Noble, JCPenney, Macy’s, and Nordstrom. Among the restaurants are PF Chang’s, Maggiano’s Little Italy, and The Cheesecake Factory.

Columbia, like its better-known sister-city, the District of Columbia (Washington), is named for Christopher Columbus, the Italian seaman who discovered the American continents. His Italian name was Cristoforo Colombo which he changed to Cristobal Colón when he decided to become a Spaniard. So here I am, a linguist comfortable in both Italian and Spanish, living in a city named after a man who claimed both nationalities.

The enduring attribute of the city of Columbia is its quiet beauty. Everywhere you look you see trees and bushes in their natural state. When it snows, as it has recently, the landscape becomes a welter of white twigs, limbs, and branches, a silvered web fading into a blank background. At the height of summer, it is a study in possible shades of green.

It is my inestimable good fortune to reside here. As long as I have a choice, I’ll stay.

Columbia

I have the good fortune to live in a city called Columbia, Maryland. It is a planned community, developed and built in the 1960s by self-made millionaire James W. Rouse (1914-1996). It has ten “villages,” districts built around “village centers” which usually consist of a small local government office and a modest shopping center. Sometimes within the villages, there are subsections with their own names.

What is remarkable about Columbia is its preserved and undeveloped parks that ramble throughout the entire city and are joined by macadam walkways. The city is dominated by Lake Kittamaqundi, a man-made 27-acre reservoir located adjacent to the Columbia Mall and Merriweather Post Pavilion. The Rouse Company created the lake in 1966 during the development of the city.

Behind my house is another small lake or pond, unnamed as far as I know. It is perhaps a hundred feet in diameter, half filled with water reeds and surrounded by matured trees, so that I feel like I’m living in the midst of a forest. My little pond is only one of many scattered throughout the city.

By design, Columbia is multiracial. Just over half the residents are White, slightly more than a quarter are Black, an eighth are Asian. Its total population in 2019 (the most recent date for which figures are available) was 103,991. Its area is 32.2 square miles. It is the most expensive place I have ever lived with a cost of living 46% higher than the national average.

More next time.