Plastic Pollution

The problem of plastic pollution is becoming more serious by the day. Consider the following facts:

—Between 4 and 12 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year.

—That amount is projected to triple in the next twenty years.

—Plastics are forever. Instead of deteriorating, plastic debris breaks down into ever-smaller particles, known as microplastics.

—Only nine percent of the global plastic waste is recycled.

—Every third fish caught and consumed by humans contains plastic.

—People eat five grams of micro and nanoplastics every week.

How dangerous is the consumption of plastics? I have not been able to find a specific answer to that question. But we do know that plastic products contain chemical additives. A number of these chemicals have been associated with serious health problems such as hormone-related cancers, infertility, and neurodevelopment disorders like ADHD and autism.

In short, the threat is serious. It’s time to take positive steps to reduce the amount of plastic we produce. Use of paper bags is a major step in the right direction. Replacing plastic tableware with paper and cardboard is an obvious solution. Increasing the recycling of plastic could be a major help in reducing plastic waste.

As with so many other threats to the planet—e.g., global warming and gun deaths—we tend to dodder. To the degree that we want to survive as a species, we’d better get started with effective action soon.

Words, Words, Words (Again)

As regular readers of this blog already know, I am a writer and always fascinated by words. So over the years, I have dedicated a series of blog posts to words that intrigue me. Time to do it again.

I’ll start off with cooties. The comic strip “Red and Rover,” about a boy and his dog, is currently running a series in which “girl cooties” is an important issue. Research on the word suggests that it might be derived from the Malay word kutu or from coot, a waterfowl supposedly known for being infested with parasites. A cootie is a body louse. But as Red in the cartoon points out, there are only girl cooties, no boy cooties.

Next: summarily. The word is an adverb formed from the noun “summary” which means a summing up or concise statement. The word is derived from the Latin summa, meaning sum or whole. “Summarily” denotes instantly, without any formalities. “Summarily executed” means killed immediately, without trial.

Then comes gird. The form and spelling of the word is essentially unchanged from its ancient form in old English and German. These days it means to prepare oneself for action. But it’s original meaning was to put on clothes.

That brings us to palate. It is derived from the Latin from the Latin “palatum,” meaning roof of the mouth, which is also the meaning of the modern word, palate.

And now, haggard. The word derives from the French “haggard” meaning wild. The word’s modern meaning is just that: wild or unruly. A second meaning is having a worn or emaciated appearance—gaunt.

Next: perfidy. The word is Latin-based, from “perfidus” meaning “treacherous.” That word is derived from “per”—to ill effect, and “fides” meaning faith. The word means being dishonest or disloyal.

That’s enough for now. More when the spirit moves me.

Intuition in Intelligence

As regular readers of this blog know, I spent my thirty-five-year government career in intelligence work. I learned early on that the end result of the hard work of intelligence is fact and nothing but fact. My opinion of the fact was immaterial.

But more often than not, it was intuition that led to the uncovering of the facts. Merriam-Webster defines intuition as “the power or faculty of attaining direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.” To me, intuition is instant, instinctive knowledge not derived from research or factfinding. It’s something I already know beforehand.

So typically in my search for the truth about a foreign nation, I would conjecture about actions I had no data to confirm. My suspicion guided my search for fact. And many times, my intuition led to uncovering the truth I had suspected.

Long ago, I concluded that intimate knowledge of the intelligence target—how the enemy thought, how he saw the world, what his goals were—was invaluable in directing the collection of data about him. Knowing him well told me where to look and what to search for.

One example of many is the North Vietnamese conquest of Saigon that ended the Vietnam war. In April 1975, conventional wisdom of the day was that the war was over. The U.S. and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, that is, North Vietnam) had signed a peace treaty. But I had been collecting data on and studying the DRV in its drive to conquer South Vietnam for almost fifteen years. I knew the DRV and its communications like the back of hand. It was clear to me that the country was perfectly capable of lying to accomplish its goals. And I knew that it was determined to unify Vietnam under its rule. That intuition guided my search for data. And I found it. The evidence from signals intelligence (my specialty) was overwhelming that the DRV was preparing to attack Saigon. I warned everyone repeatedly. But I wasn’t believed. Saigon fell. Thousands died. And the U.S. lost a war for the first time.

So intuition and knowing where to look are key to intelligence success. Thank God I followed my instincts and listened to my inner voice—although ultimately I failed: I wasn’t believed.

Repeal the Second Amendment (2)

My objections notwithstanding, many point out that the U.S. is a gun culture. We take pride in the number of guns we own and stress that the Second Amendment to the Constitution prohibits limiting that number. That amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” My interpretation of the amendment is that the freedom to own firearms is for the purpose of maintaining a militia. According to Oxford Languages, the definition of militia is “a military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency.” As far as I can tell, the only militias we have these days are armed extremist groups, like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.

My belief is that it’s time to repeal the Second Amendment. We have no need for militias of any kind. And unless we reduce the number of guns owned by citizens, the number of Americans killed in gun violence will continue to be highest in the civilized world.

Now is the time to act. I urge my readers to appeal to the Congress and the White House to make meaningful moves toward reducing the number of guns in the hands of our people. Repeal the Second Amendment.

Book Fair

Wanted to let you all know: I’ll be manning a table to sell and autograph my books at the 2022 Day of Knowledge Book Fair from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. on August 20. The fair will be at Millers Picnic Grove, 4224 Millers Station Road, Manchester, MD. Hope to see you there.

Repeal the Second Amendment

As the number of deaths from gun violence continues to grow—26, 298 so far this year according to the Gun Violence Archive—I continue to ruminate on what we can do to reduce the number killed.

Two facts stand out. First, the ratio between the number of people killed by guns and the number of guns in the hands of the citizens is consistent throughout the world—the higher the number of guns, the higher the number killed. The U.S. has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world—120.5 guns for every hundred people. We have twenty percent more guns than people. Second, we have the highest rate of gun deaths of any of the developed economies.

So the solution to our gun death rate problem is simple: reduce the number of guns in the hands of our citizens.

But recent legislation and Supreme Court moves have done nothing toward that goal. President Biden recently signed into law a bipartisan gun bill intended to prevent dangerous people from accessing firearms and increase investments in the nation’s mental health system, ending nearly three decades of gridlock in Washington over how to address gun violence in the U. S. But the law did nothing to reduce the number of guns in the hands of citizens and will, therefore, fail to reduce the numbers killed annually by gun violence.

And the Supreme Court has ruled that Americans have a broad right to arm themselves in public, striking down a New York law that placed strict limits on carrying guns outside the home and setting off a scramble in other states that have similar restrictions.

The legal right to be armed is broader than ever.

More next time.

What Does It Mean to Be a Writer? (2)

Then in 1958, since I was about to be drafted, I enlisted in the army to go to the Army Language School, later known as the Defense Language Institute (DLI), for a year of intensive study of Chinese. But the army dictated that I was to study Vietnamese, a language I had never heard of. After I graduated first in my class of ten, I was assigned to the National Security Agency (NSA). Because I was close to Washington, D.C., I took night classes in Chinese at Georgetown University. That meant I was comfortable in the three languages spoken in Vietnam—Vietnamese, Chinese, and French. As soon as my enlistment was over, NSA hired me and immediately sent me to Vietnam. For the next thirteen years, I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S. My job was supporting troops in combat with information on the enemy derived from the intercept and exploitation of his radio communications. Along the way, I lived through more than my share of adventures and close calls. Given how much time I spent in combat, it is a miracle that I was never wounded.

After my escape under fire when Saigon fell in 1975, I was assigned elsewhere in the world doing the same kind of work. But where I went, what I did, and who I was supporting are all still classified. So I can’t talk about them.

Nevertheless, all that added to the accumulation of tales overloading my memory. Critics have correctly pointed out that my novels and short stories are fiction in name only—every event I write about really did happen. I turn the stories into fiction by attributing actions to fictional characters rather than to myself or people I have known.

Fortunately, writing comes naturally to me. And I have all these stories I want to tell about things that really happened. The words flow out of me onto the page as if I were merely a transcriber for an external voice. I understand very well how the Greeks ascribed to a muse the inspiration of the artist—I feel as though someone is dictating to me. I have to write as fast as I can to keep up.

So I am enormously fortunate to have a personality well-suited writing. And, as hard as it is, I love it.

How’s that for good luck?

What Does It Mean to Be a Writer?

My occupation is writing. I discovered when I was six years old that I was born to write. I struggled against that dictate. I tried various other professions and even took a BA in music before acceding to my vocation. And since writing doesn’t pay, I became a spy—which pays every well. Along the way in that profession, I became comfortable in seven foreign languages. That knowledge, ironically, turns out to be of great value in writing English. I was so successful as a spy and, later, as a leader, that I rose to the top of the executive ranks in the federal government. I then retired as early as I could to write fulltime. That was thirty years ago. I now have six books and 17 short stories in print.

The life of a writer suits me. When I’m at my best I can write fourteen hours a day. The story in my head pushes me to get it down on the page. I can’t write fast enough. And I’ll have no peace until it’s all written. It’s as if my Muse were dictating, allowing me no rest until the job is done.

Then comes revision. I keep polishing the text until it sings when I read it aloud. That means I usually revise a book ten times before I’m satisfied. And that explains why I am such a slow writer.

I’m more fortunate than most. I have genuinely enjoyed all the different kinds of work I’ve done during my life. I enjoyed the many part-time jobs I had as a child and young man. I took them on at first to be sure I’d have enough to eat when my alcoholic mother and prisoner father failed me. All through college I worked twenty hours a week to feed and house myself. I spent the day of my graduation ceremony in the hospital suffering from exhaustion.

More next time.