Gun Deaths (2)

The need for Congress to reduce the number of guns in the hands of citizens is urgent. And yet, although House Democrats passed enhanced background check and red flag bills, these bills failed to become law because Republican senators oppose them and Democratic senators are two votes short of reforming the filibuster.

As far as I can tell, Republicans object to gun control laws because they restrict the freedom of gun owners. They continue to oppose gun safety laws even though 17,424 people have died from gun violence in the U.S. so far this year.

Other nations, with strict gun control laws, have very few gun deaths each year. This is a problem unique to the U.S. It’s time for all of us, Republicans included, to tackle this monstrous failing, correct it, and save lives.

Gun Deaths

As a man who is all too familiar with the gross damage that guns can do to the human body, I have pleaded a number of times in the five years I’ve been blogging for the U.S. government to take action to reduce the number of guns in the hands of American citizens. We have 20 percent more guns than people in the U.S.

As I write, the press is full of reports of the most recent mass shooting on May 24. At least 21 people are dead, 19 innocent children and two adults, in a mass shooting perpetrated by an 18-year-old gunman at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. According to the Gun Violence Archive, this latest mass shooting is the 215th to take place in 2022 and marks the deadliest school shooting since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S. Guns have already killed more than 630 American children this year. And the year isn’t half over.

This is only the latest massacre. In the past ten years, we have witnessed mass shootings at the following locations:

—supermarkets in Buffalo, New York, and in Boulder, Colorado.

—a rail yard in San Jose, California

—a birthday party in Colorado Springs

—a convenience store in Springfield, Missouri.

—a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

—churches in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and in Charleston, South Carolina

—a Walmart in El Paso.

—a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis.

—a music festival in Las Vegas.

—massage parlors in the Atlanta area.

—a Waffle House in Nashville.

—a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and

—a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. 

More next time.

Swordsman vs. Wordsman

In my long and diverse life, I’ve been described variously as a spy, linguist, cryptographer, and, finally, writer. But the two descriptive terms I liked best were “swordsman” and “wordsman.”

A swordsman is first and foremost someone who does battle with a sword, but the word’s broader usage is to refer to a fighter, combatant, or soldier. Because of my years of assisting troops in combat, some of the few who knew of my time on the battlefield—it was classified until 2016—thought of me as a warrior, even though my role was not to fight but to provide intelligence to friendly forces. Moreover, I wasn’t even in the army or Marine Corps—I was civilian operating under cover as military. Nevertheless, many of my compatriots still spoke of me as a swordsman.

Nowadays, I am more often labelled a wordsman. The term has two meanings. The one I like best and accept as defining me is “A man who is a wordsmith.” I think of myself as an artist, one who creates beauty using words, but wordsmith is close enough. The other definition is “one who deals in words, or in mere words; a verbalist”—in short, one who places undue emphasis on words rather than on action. I reject that characterization and point to my history as evidence that I acted rather than merely talking.

So these days, when my time on the battlefield is long since over, I am content with being characterized as both a swordsman and wordsman.

I take both as compliments.

Obese Americans

Saturday, May 21, I spent the day at the Gaithersburg Book Festival, hawking and autographing my books. I sat at a table with my six books displayed, talked to readers (including some who have read my work), and happily signed books for buyers.

So I spent the entire day observing the crowd. Two trends stood out to me: dyed hair and obesity.

Something like half a dozen women I observed had dyed their hair colors that hair never achieves naturally: green, blue, purple, and crimson. The result was bizarre. I couldn’t imagine why any woman would want to attract attention by looking peculiar.

Far more common was the number of people who were overweight—well over half, probably somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters.

Why are the majority of Americans obese? I don’t have a clue. I could speculate, without evidence, that few of us exercise regularly, control our diet, or are aware of the dangers to health that obesity poses. Being overweight increases the likelihood of diseases that can prove fatal: heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. I suspect that our willingness to overeat springs from our general lack of discipline as a people. In the long life of our Pax Americana, during which no enemy has been able to attack us on our own territory, laziness has spread to the point of becoming a national characteristic.

I remember reading in my youth that the Roman Empire collapsed primarily because of the degeneration of its citizenry. Are we headed in the same direction?

Conservative: Meaning

“Conservative,” according to Oxford Languages, is defined as averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values. To me, a conservative is a person who wants to preserve the past. Put differently, he or she wants ideas, concepts, and ways of living from bygone times to thrive in the present and the future. The implication is that the conservative is opposed to neoteric or “newfangled” ways of thinking and wants to reinforce what some would consider outmoded models of procedure.

But political conservatives active these days, especially those who support Trump, look to me like those who want to preserve the benefits of the well-to-do and the power, especially political power, of the wealthy. That means that they are actively working to making it more difficult for the rank-and-file to vote. According to Aljazeera, “This year, at least 27 states have introduced or enacted 250 pieces of legislation designed to restrict voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. This comes after a record year in which 19 US states enacted 34 restrictive voting laws in 2021.”

These efforts are driven by the Republicans. They know they are outnumbered by Democrats and can’t win elections by the free vote count, so they seek to suppress Democratic votes. Whether we like to admit it or not, that is a direct attack on American democracy.

So the meaning of “conservative” has changed. One result to make me more progressive than ever.

Beethoven and Me: Deaf (2)

My deafness has become more pronounced as I grow older. More than half of my adult life, I’ve worn hearing aids. Every year or so, the aids have to be adjusted to make up for further failings in my ability to hear. My guess is that if I live long enough, I’ll go completely deaf.

So my days as a musician are numbered. I listen to music and play the piano as often as I can, but these days writing takes up more and more of my time. I suspect that eventually my hearing will fail to the point that I can no longer listen to music. Then I’ll find out the degree to which I can depend on my inner ear (my mind) to play music that only I can hear. Will I be able to read a score and hear a piece internally?

My guess is that the answer’s yes. If Beethoven could go on composing after he lost his hearing, then, if I go completely deaf, I should be able to listen internally.

I hope I don’t find that answer to that question soon.

Beethoven and Me: Deaf

A while back, I blogged here about my irritation with Beethoven for his emotionalism and his egotism in expecting listeners to sit through needless variations and repeats in his later works such as his ninth symphony. I compared him unfavorably with my two favorite composers, Bach and Mozart, both highly rational and concise.

As noted here in earlier blogs, I knew when I was six years old that I was born to write, but I tried to escape my fate. My most serious effort was my devotion to music. As a child, I taught myself to read music and to play the piano and devoted much of my leisure time to listening to classical music and, eventually, trying my hand at composing. I went on to take a BA in music at the University of California, Berkeley.

Over time, I came to understand that there was no escape: my purpose as a human being was to write. But with an education in music and so much experience in the art, music has remained a key element in my life.

So my feelings about Beethoven are firmly grounded in education and knowledge. But Beethoven and I both suffered from near-fatal failing for a musician: deafness. I don’t know the source of Beethoven’s affliction, but mine is obvious: combat. For much of my career as a spy (music and writing don’t pay well, but spying does, and I had a family to support), I operated on the battlefield, providing signals intelligence support (the intercept and exploitation of the enemy’s radio communications) to U.S. and friendly forces. And I escaped under fire when Saigon fell in April, 1975. That meant that I was repeatedly exposed to gunfire and shelling. My hearing was severely damaged.

More next time.

Vote!

Regular readers of this blog know that I urge all Americans to vote in all elections, local, county, state, and national. We live in the world’s greatest democracy, and unlike the people in much of the rest of the world, we have the right to choose who will govern us. Because of our good fortune, we have a moral duty to vote in every election.

I am more fortunate than most Americans. During my working years, I traveled extensively all around the world. I was able to observe firsthand people who were subjects of autocrats who decided their fate, even whether they were to go on living.

And my readers know that I am sharply critical of the U.S. for what I consider its flaws—the number of gun deaths we suffer, our failure to address global warming, and the number of our citizens who are overweight, for example. But it is also obvious to me that the U.S., for all its faults, is the greatest nation on earth.

It is out duty as citizens to keep it that way. Now more than at any other time in my long life, democracy is at risk in the U.S. because of forces who would turn us into a fascist country. Now, more than ever before, it is our duty to get out and vote.

So be a patriot and a defender of American freedom. Vote!

Abortion

I feel that to be honest with my readers I must explain my position on abortion, an issue that is now in the headlines thanks to a leaked document from the Supreme Court that suggests that the court will rule against legalized abortion.

I must admit that the prospect of abortion chills me. To me, a fetus, no matter how young, is still a human being. I find killing it hard to justify or defend. So I end up with a personal choice to oppose abortion.

But I know that progressive liberals, with whom I agree on every other issue, are all but united in supporting a woman’s choice to end her pregnancy. Nor would I give more weight to my moral stance than I would to that of a woman choosing to end an unwanted gestation.

So I’ll keep my moral choice to myself. I won’t challenge the moral stance of fellow progressives or try to impose my values on women who choose to abort. I have too much respect and appreciation for others to challenge their ethical decisions.

I’ll keep my peace.

Must Be Spring (2)

As of a few days ago, the new ducks on the pond were gone. In their place are the Mallards I’ve seen before. And now the deer are back. Two adults without antlers (presumably both doe rather than bucks) were wandering through the open space to the east of my house. Meanwhile, I’ve spotted a fox and several rabbits.

So I assume that sometime soon I’ll be seeing a great variety of land animals in that open space and around the pond. In previous years, I’ve seen everything from rabbits and deer to possums and foxes, along with some creatures I couldn’t identify.

It must be spring. And I glory once again in the beauty of the place I live.