Trump’s Damage (2)

The damage Donald Trump did by lying to the American people in incalculable. The best I can do to catalogue Trump’s lies is to quote the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo, and Meg Kelly’s summary from last January:

“When The Washington Post Fact Checker team first started cataloguing President Donald Trump’s false or misleading claims, we recorded 492 suspect claims in the first 100 days of his presidency. On Nov. 2 alone, the day before the 2020 vote, Trump made 503 false or misleading claims as he barnstormed across the country in a desperate effort to win reelection.

“This astonishing jump in falsehoods is the story of Trump’s tumultuous reign. By the end of his term, Trump had accumulated 30,573 untruths during his presidency — averaging about 21 erroneous claims a day.

“What is especially striking is how the tsunami of untruths kept rising the longer he served as president and became increasingly unmoored from the truth.

Trump averaged about six claims a day in his first year as president, 16 claims a day in his second year, 22 claims a day in this third year — and 39 claims a day in his final year. Put another way, it took him 27 months to reach 10,000 claims and an additional 14 months to reach 20,000. He then exceeded the 30,000 mark less than five months later.”

I know of no way to measure the harm Trump inflicted on the American people with his flagrant lies.

More next time.

Trump’s Damage

As time goes on, the damage that Donald Trump inflicted on the U.S. becomes more apparent. His lying and deliberate sabotage of needed programs (e.g., DACA) reduced, perhaps permanently, the trust Americans have in their government. For the next several days, I want to review the losses due to Trump’s actions.

The most recent example is the Supreme Court. By loading the court with ultraconservative justices with questionable credentials, Trump has eroded the power of the court and made it the least effective of the three branches of government.

The Supreme Court has no power to enforce its judgments. It depends on the executive and legislative branches to carry out its rulings. To the degree that the court loses national credibility, reluctance to enforce its rulings grows. It is now weaker than at anytime I can recall.

Reformers of the court have spoken of possible solutions, including increasing the size of the court (so that the number of liberal justices will equal the number of conservatives), limiting the length of time that a justice may serve, and impeaching justices named by Trump. I claim no expertise in legal matters and cannot judge the worthiness of these proposed changes. That said, I call upon the Biden administration to move swiftly and decisively to restore the court’s credibility.

More next time.

Meaningless Words

When I hear casual conversations, I realize how many meaningless words we strew throughout our verbal outpourings. Some of these words do have a dictionary meaning, but we don’t use them according to their definition. We use them to fill space.

Prominent among words thus used are “oh,” “um,” “well,” and “you know.” Speakers scatter these sounds through their utterances not to express a thought but to avoid silences that would invite their interlocutors to seize the moment and start speaking. They can get away with that because we consider it rude to interrupt someone who is speaking.

Thanks to my rigorous training as a public speaker, I learned to eliminate from my speech these worthless sounds. That makes what I say seem taut and economical, pointed and precise. I enjoy listening to other speakers similarly trained.

That said, I am surprised by the number of people I hear, particularly on the radio, who slide into using verbal nonentities while they rattle on. Some of the users are highly professional experts who are, nonetheless, not trained public speakers.

So I refocus on keeping my speech devoid of flotsam unless, um, I—oh, well, you know—sometimes forget.

Gun Deaths

The U.S. continues to lead the world in gun ownership and is outnumbered only by Brazil in the annual number of deaths by gunfire. As of 2019, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, U.S. citizens owned more guns than did the citizens of any other nation, 120.5 guns per 100 people—we have twenty percent more guns than people. That’s almost twice the figure for the country with the second highest number, Falkland Islands, at 62.1 guns per 100 people.

We are also next to the top of the list of countries with the highest total gun deaths. Only Brazil outdid us in total gun deaths in 2019. It accounted for 49,436 deaths by gunfire. We had 37, 038.

I don’t know what it will take for Americans to understand that we must reduce the number of guns we possess to be able to shrink the number killed by gunfire. The parallel between the number of guns in the hands of the citizenry and the number killed annually by gunfire is consistent throughout the world. Examples from current news are instructive: if Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, had not owned an AR-15, a lightweight semi-automatic rifle, he could never have fatally shot two men and wounded another in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 25, 2020. And on November 30, 2021, a gunman opened fire on students and staff at Oxford High School in the Detroit exurb of Oxford Township, Michigan, United States, killing four students and injuring seven other people, including a teacher.

I continue to believe that the U.S. is the greatest country in the history of the world. But it’s not without its flaws. The fact that we allow over 37,000 people to die each year by gunfire is one of our worst failings. We must get rid of the guns.

Book Award

According to a notification just received, the 2021 Indie Best Award Winners included my novel, Last of the Annamese (Naval Institute Press, 2017) in its list of “Notables.” The Next Generation Indie Book Awards, also known as the Indie Book Awards, is a literary awards program that recognizes and honors authors and publishers of exceptional independently published books in 70 different categories. I am humbled and grateful for the recognition.

Mallards

With the onset of cold weather, the ducks have reappeared on the pond in back (to the north) of my house in Columbia, Maryland. They are mallards, the males prominent for their showy green heads, with a white stripe at the ends of their necks, and pale tan bodies with black trimmings. The females are a demurer brown in color and lack all flamboyant attributes of the males.

They usually show up at the coldest part of the day—dawn—and swim back and forth in the pond for an hour or so before they fly away. The pond is quite shallow, only a foot or two deep, so it is easy for the ducks to plunge their heads into the water to eat water plants. The cold doesn’t seem to bother them, but they stay active moving swiftly in groups through the water.

There are usually fifteen or twenty ducks at a time. The males greatly outnumber the females, and more than once I couldn’t see any females at all. As far as I can tell, they always arrive and depart together, flying in from and back to the north. And the numbers vary. This morning I see only half a dozen swimming back and forth.

Why the ducks visit my little pond, only about a hundred feet in diameter, remains a mystery, as does the reason that a variety of land animals—including deer, foxes, and rabbits—frequent the open space to the east of my house. I am grateful to the city of Columbia which has maintained wild areas, lakes, and ponds throughout the city. That provides the animals the environment they need and keeps me entertained.

Being the Enemy

I’m currently reading for review Tom Young’s Red Burning Sky: A WWII Novel Inspired by the Greatest Aviation Rescue in History (Kensington Publishing Corp., 2022). It tells of the 1944 Operation Halyard, a plan to evacuate hundreds of airmen stranded behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia. As I work my way through the story, I am struck by the contrast between my experience in Vietnam and that of Americans during World War II. We were seen as the good guys, the rescuers, by ordinary people in Europe seeking to escape the Nazi conquest. In Vietnam, as I am coming to understand, we Americans were seen by the majority of the Vietnamese not as saviors but as invaders.

Part of the reason we were the enemy is that we were supporting a series of South Vietnamese governments that were clearly not democratic. The North Vietnamese invaders, the communists, portrayed themselves as rescuers of a population oppressed by “puppets” controlled by a foreign power, namely, the U.S. In the end, we withdrew rather than expend more lives and treasure on a hopeless effort to defeat the North Vietnamese. It was the first war the U.S. had ever lost.

I don’t know how the populations of Afghanistan and Iraq perceived U.S. forces fighting in their countries, but my guess is that they, too, saw us as foreign aggressors. We effectively lost the wars in those countries, too.

I suspect that it’s time for us Americans to rethink our foreign military engagements in the context of how populations in contested regions see us. As long as we are identified as the enemy, our chances of victory are minimal.

My Careers (2)

Continuing the story of my multiple careers: When my army enlistment came to an end, because of my facility with languages and my knowledge of French, Vietnamese, and Chinese—the three languages of Vietnam—NSA hired me at five steps above the normal starting grade for a new employee and immediately sent me to Vietnam for the first time in 1962. For the next thirteen years, until the fall of Saigon in 1975, I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S. My career as a spy was launched.

After the fall of Saigon, I went on doing the same kind of work in other places, but what I did and where I did it are still classified, so I can’t talk about them.

Meanwhile, when I could, I wrote. Because I had so little time to myself and because I was always working on more than one book at a time, it took me an average of fourteen years to write each book. Most of my writing, all fiction except for some magazine articles, was based on my experience in Vietnam—everything after that was still classified. But all my fiction was rooted in fact. That led reviewers to describe my writing as fiction in name only. They were right, although sometimes I described incidents after 1975 as if they had happened in Vietnam.

For twenty-plus years after the end of the Vietnam war in 1975, Americans condemned the war there. It was also the first war we Americans had ever lost. As a result, for years I was unable to get my fiction published—Americans just didn’t want to hear about Vietnam.

That all started to change around 2015. A new generation of Americans had come along and wanted to know why the Vietnam war was never talked about. They were curious about what happened and why. Publishers began to accept my books and short stories. I now have six books and seventeen short stories in print with more to come. So my career as a writer has finally arrived.

That’s how my careers went, from being a musician to being a linguist and then a spy (which paid very well) until I could retire with a handsome stipend and write full time—that is, fulfill my vocation to write and take on my true career.

More books coming. Be patient.

My Careers

When I was preparing to do the blog post about polyphony, I dug out my copy of Hugo Leichtentritt’s Musical Form, published by the Harvard University Press in 1951. In my days as a music student, and still today as far as I know, it was the final authority on the subject. When I opened the cover of the book, I found a hand-written inscription which reads, “Christmas, 1955. I hope this book might help you somewhat. I also hope you’ll soon come to the point where you no longer need it. Sincerely, Mary”. The inscription tells me that it dates from my second year in college and my first year of studying music at the college level. I took my Batchelor of Arts degree in music in 1958.

Mary, who gave me the book and signed it, was a woman a year or two older than me whom I greatly admired for her musical talent. She, too, was studying music at the University of California, Berkeley. After we finished college, I went into the army (the draft was still in force), and Mary got married and ceased communicating with me. I know that her marriage didn’t work out, but that’s all I know about what happened to her after that. I never heard from her again despite my many letters to her.

Mary’s inscription brought back to me many memories of my undergraduate college days and my impecunious youth. With my mother drunk and my father in and out of prison and writing bad checks against my checking account, I had to work twenty hours a week to feed and clothe myself while attending a regular schedule of college courses. As I have reported here before, I missed my college graduation because I was in the hospital suffering from exhaustion. But once I graduated with a BA in music, my career as a musician was launched.

I majored in music because I was hoping to escape my fate of being a writer. I had known since I was six years old that I was born to write, but I dabbled with other careers. I was also a budding linguist, comfortable in French, Italian, Latin, and German. Learning languages came naturally to me—I taught myself French and Italian as a child—and it never occurred to me that learning foreign tongues was challenging. Only later did I come to understand that we Americans regarded foreign languages as very difficult because, as a dominant nation, we required others to learn our American English and consequently considered learning other languages as preeminently demanding.

After I graduated from college, I enlisted in the army to go to the Army Language School (later called the Defense Language Institute), the finest language school in the world, to study Chinese, a language that fascinated me but was too difficult for me to teach to myself. The army in its wisdom decided that I should study Vietnamese, not Chinese. It wasn’t until after I had completed a year of intensive study of Vietnamese that I was assigned to the National Security Agency (NSA), found myself near Washington, D.C., and enrolled at Georgetown to study Chinese.

More next time.

Online Videos

Partly because I’m a successful novelist and partly because of my long history of assisting friendly troops in combat, I now have three videos online that my readers can access. The most recent is by WMAR Television (Baltimore), who spent the better part of a morning interviewing me. The result is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FcNLFQovys

Two earlier videos, from 2017 and 2018, are still online at YouTube. You can access them at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bg1UDKl57PA and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ee07TKBrSks.

If you watch them, please comment here or via email on what you think.