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My Books

This is the post excerpt.

I have been writing since I was six years old. I now have five novels and seventeen stories in print. Adelaide Books in New York published my latest novel, Secretocracy, in March 2020. It will bring out my newest collection of short stories, Coming to Terms, in July 2020

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.

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, due out in July 2020, is a new collection of short stories about people trying to work through the downturns in their lives.

 

Yard Sign

My neighbor, who lives across the cul-de-sac from me, has posted a large sign in his yard. It reads:

STOP TRUMP

ELECT DEMOCRATS

SAVE AMERICA

The first and third lines are bright red letters on a white background. The middle line is white letters against blue. So he has the three patriotic colors—red, white, and blue—prominently displayed. The message is loud and clear.

When I congratulated my neighbor on the sign, he told me that four years ago he put out a similar sign supporting the election of Hillary Clinton. It was stolen within a few days. He’s waiting to see how long this one lasts.

It’s still there this morning. Four days now. There’s hope.

Do What You Have to Do (2)

The hardest part came at the very end, in April 1975, after the withdrawal of American military forces, when it was incumbent upon me to get my 43 subordinates and their families safely out of the country before the North Vietnamese attacked Saigon. To do that, I had to stay in place until the attack was underway. I had to lie, cheat, and steal to get my people on flights because the U.S. ambassador, Graham Martin, forbade me to evacuate them. A representative of the government of Hungary, a communist nation allied to North Vietnam, had assured him that the North Vietnamese had no intention of attacking Saigon. Signals intelligence—my job and the job of all my guys—made it blatantly clear that the North Vietnamese were about to launch a blitzkrieg against the city. The ambassador believed the communist representative instead of acting on the validated intelligence I was giving him.

The result was the worst days of my life. At the very end, I and two communicators who had agreed to stay with me to the end were isolated at our office during the final assault against the city. The enemy used rockets and artillery against us as they prepared to seize Saigon. The building we were in was hit repeatedly. The building next to us was destroyed, and two Marines at our gate were killed. On the afternoon of 29 April, my two communicators were finally extracted safely. I escaped that night under fire.

I’m justifiably proud of my service to my country and especially of my willingness to stay to the end during the fall of Saigon to assure that none of my guys or their wives and children were killed. I understand from President Trump’s perspective, that makes me a close kin to those who died in war—suckers and losers.

Maybe so. I did what I had to do, whatever it took.

Do What You Have to Do

Today I want to return to an idea I have explored several times over the years in this blog, the sense of devotion that a service member or government representative must have in a crisis: the willingness to do what is required no matter the personal cost, even it means giving up one’s life.

“Do what you have to do, whatever it takes.” Those words were my guiding principle during my thirteen years on and off in Vietnam supporting both army and Marine units in combat. It was an honor to be on the battlefield with the troops, undercover as one of them, but it also meant that I had to be willing to give up my life if that’s what it took.

The same words are the motto of characters in my 2017 novel Last of the Annamese, set during the fall of Saigon. There’s nothing elegant or poetic about the phrase. It’s down and dirty. It smells of blood and human sweat.

I was in Vietnam more time than I was in the states between 1962 and 1975, and I was put to the test multiple times. My job was providing signals intelligence support to U.S. combat forces. That meant telling the Americans, based on intercepted radio communications, what North Vietnamese forces were aligned against them, what their strength was, where they were, and what their plans were.

More tomorrow.

Global Warming and Gun Violence During Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has done little to slow down two curses bedeviling the U.S. caused by our own doing: global warming and gun violence.

Evidence suggests that human actions that gave rise to global warming, burning of fossil fuels and destruction of forests, have declined during 2020. But the heating of the environment was already moving so quickly that 2020 is on track to be one of the hottest years ever. We have had record high daily temperatures in a number of places in the world. The highest was in mid-August in Death Valley—130 degrees. That may be the highest temperature ever recorded. The previous record, 134 degrees in Death Valley on 10 July 1913, is now considered of doubtful accuracy. The world, in short, is getting hotter by the year.

And our gun violence hasn’t slowed because people are sickened and dying as a result of the spread of the coronavirus. Thus far this year, the U.S. has suffered over 30,000 deaths by guns. We have more guns in the U.S. than we have people. And as is clear from world-wide statistics, the more guns a nation has, the higher its death toll from gunfire. We suffered 4.43 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017 (the most recent year for which I can find statistics)—a far greater death toll than in other western democracies.

What does it take for us to learn from our own mistakes? As a nation we failed miserably to confront the covid-19 pandemic, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths we could have prevented. We continue to burn fossil fuels at record rates, assuring global warming will increase. We refuse to control the number of firearms in the hands of citizens, guaranteeing thousands of gun deaths.

U.S. exceptionalism has changed its meaning. It now refers to our unique national failures to meet challenges. If we are fortunate enough to have a new president and a new Congress in 2021, we must push for restoration of our ability to take on challenges and win.

Biden Support Among Those of Modest Income

I’m surprised to discover evidence in the media that Americans of the lower classes—those with less money—are sometimes ambivalent about supporting Joe Biden for president. The reason seems to be that those populations favor conservative moral and cultural norms at odds with Biden’s more liberal approach. They tend to disagree with him about abortion, taxes, future relations with Cuba, sexual orientation, and his stand on police funding which they misrepresent.

Those who belong to minority groups are often liberal in their politics but conservative in their ethics. Blacks, Asians, and especially Latinos are frequently members of traditional religious communities that condemn, for example, divorce and same-sex relationships.

What this hesitancy to support the Democrats overlooks, to the detriment of those who hold the view, is the far greater importance of economic liberalism for the lower classes. Liberals have long supported fair wages, unions, equal pay for equal work, minimum wage laws, and many other measures to improve the economic status of those at the lower end of the financial scale.

When those with less income fail to support liberal candidates, they are working for their own disadvantage. I hope and trust they will see the light in time to elect those who will do the most good for them.

College Tuition: No Longer Affordable

When I went to the University of California (Berkeley) for an undergraduate degree in the 1950s, the tuition was just over fifty dollars a semester. From a background of poverty—my father was in prison, my mother an alcoholic—I was able to work part-time to support myself and pay tuition. Granted, it wasn’t easy. My last semester, I collapsed from exhaustion and listened to my graduation ceremony at the Greek Theatre, an 8,500-seat amphitheater, from nearby Cowell Hospital on campus.

Back then, state universities were affordable for people like me with low income. Not anymore. The current annual tuition at the University of California, Berkeley, is $14,254. The university health plan costs another $3,286. The poor, like me, are out of luck.

There are scholarships, of course, but they are for poor students who are bright. I was by all indications not bright. My high school grades were low enough that the school counselors advised me not to go to college. I’d done poorly in school because of my disrupted family life.

I accepted the judgment of my scholastic advisors that I was too stupid for college. But I was determined to go anyway. After graduation, at a time when military service was mandatory for all, I went on to language school in the army (Vietnamese) where I graduated top in the class and later, long after my military service was complete, while working fulltime, went to graduate school where I earned a doctorate with a straight-A record and honors. Turned out I wasn’t so much dumb as deprived. I ended up as a linguist in seven languages and was promoted to the top executive ranks in the U.S. government. That meant that I could retire with a generous annuity and write fulltime. I now have six books and 17 short stories in print.

Were I just reaching college age today, I’d be out of luck. I wouldn’t be able to afford the tuition costs. I’d end up in a low-level job for life.

It’s time for us as a country to revise the way we do things to allow the young a greater chance for advancement. We have stacked the decks against the poor, the black, the Hispanics. My hope is that with a new Democratic president and Congress come January, we can begin to change our country so that opportunity is open to the poor as well as to the rich.

Trump: A Three-Term President

Each time I try to turn my attention away from the Trump presidency, Trump offers new evidence for alarm. This time it’s hints that Trump won’t give up the presidency even if he is defeated in the November election.

The story started a while back when Trump suggested that he might not relinquish the White House in January even if he is not re-elected. Then he threatened to send sheriffs and law enforcement personnel to polling places which would intimidate those who wanted to vote against him. Over the weekend, he stated that if he wins re-election this November, he will “negotiate” in order to run for an unconstitutional third term. On Sunday, Michael Caputo, Trump’s Health and Human Services (HHS) chief spokesman, warned Trump supporters to be prepared for an armed insurrection and “buy ammunition” after a contested election. He added, “And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin.”

Trump, in sum, is threatening to stay in power by force of arms. Will it lead to armed conflict? Will Trump lead us into a civil war?

Mail Disruption

The arrival of my mail has become erratic. Once a week or so, I receive no mail at all. The next day, my mailbox is overloaded. Mail is taking longer to arrive. One letter from North Carolina was delivered three weeks after its postmark date.

I learned this morning that I am not imagining the disruption. The New York Times announced that “analysis of more than 28 million pieces of mail found that on-time delivery declined noticeably in July and August after Louis DeJoy, the [Trump administration’s newly assigned] postmaster general, put cost-cutting measures in place.”

The Trump administration isn’t interested in saving money. It wants to make vote-by-mail impractical. It’s deliberately sabotaging post office operations for that purpose. The result is that people like me who depend on the mail for their prescriptions and their business (sending and receiving books and manuscripts) are left hanging. The medications are key to my health and survival; the books and texts I send and receive are essential for my work as a writer and book reviewer. And Trump is delaying their delivery.

Some years ago, we had a discussion about whether the United States Postal Service (USPS) is in fact a service or a business. Lawmakers tended to side with the business argument. In 2006, Congress passed a law that imposed extraordinary costs on the USPS. The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) required the USPS to create a $72 billion fund to pay for its post-retirement health care costs 75 years into the future. This burden applies to no other federal agency or private corporation. But the USPS receives no funds from the government. It is expected to pay its costs through stamp sales and mailing fees.

With the growth of email and the internet, people are sending fewer letters, and the USPS’s income has shrunk. The solution to that problem is obviously for Congress to allocate funds to keep the USPS operating at top efficiency. But the Trump administration and DeJoy, with the complicity of Republicans in Congress, are instead weakening the service in hopes that voting-by-mail won’t be feasible. They know that the more people that vote, the greater the likelihood that Trump and the Republicans will be defeated.

Despite this and a litany of other destructive actions by Trump, he continues to enjoy the support of something like 40 percent of the American citizenry. I am at a total loss to understand how that can be.

Politicization of Intelligence

Two recent developments, now being reported in the press, are arousing grave concern in me as an intelligence professional. First, the Director of National Intelligence is withholding briefings from Congress. Second, a whistleblower in the intelligence community claims that he was told to stop reporting on Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2020 election.

When falsification of intelligence begins, so does fascism. Trump is attempting to distort and withhold the truth from government decision makers and the American people. He is trying to persuade citizens that the country is in a crisis and that he, the law and order president, is the only one who can fix it. This is on top of the thousands of lies he has told us while in office. In the aftermath of Bob Woodward’s book, Trump admitted he lied about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic to forestall panic. Apparently panic control is more important than saving thousands of lives and justifies blatant lying.

Just how bad Trump’s actions have been won’t be apparent until after he has left office and is no longer able to hide damning evidence. I fully expect that Trump will be arraigned, convicted, and sentenced to prison for crimes we don’t even know about because he has been able to conceal them while is still in office. What possessed Americans to elect this man to office in the first place?

Americans, beware. The distortion of intelligence has begun. Fascism is at our door.

Bach and Mozart (3)

Both Mozart and Bach succeed because of their intense innate musicality. Both were geniuses beyond compare, and both were well-suited to the tastes of the time in which they lived. That I can play their music at all is a great gift to me.

But I am a writer, not a musician. I toyed with professions other than writing early in life. I trained as a dancer and actor. I took a BA in music. Professionally, I became a linguist in seven languages, and I earned a living and supported my family by spying. I retired as early as I could to be able to write full time. That turned out to have been a wise decision.

But through it all, I kept returning to playing the piano. It started when I taught myself to play because my family couldn’t afford music lessons for me. I eventually earned enough money from part-time jobs to buy my first piano, an ancient upright with some keys missing. Throughout my life, I’ve never gone for very long without working at the keyboard.

Bach and Mozart were always important to me, but it wasn’t until my maturity that they came to dominate my playing and listening. Had I lived two complete lives, I still wouldn’t be able to encompass the greatness of their music.