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.
Over the years, I have written several times here about the wild animals I see in the open space to the east of my house and in the pond to the north, both approximately a hundred feet in diameter. But this year is remarkable for the appearance of waterbird families.
A pair of geese showed up something like a month ago. Then, for a week or so, I saw only one goose. Then, all of a sudden, there were two geese and six tiny goslings. When they frolic on land in the open space, the goslings go wherever the parents go, pecking at the ground. But when they are in the water, the goslings line up in a row between the two adults and swim the length of the pond.
In previous years, ducks did not appear in the pond when geese were there. But this year, a family of ducks is here sharing the water. Earlier, ducks showing up on the pond have been Mallards. But this year, it’s a different variety which I was able to tentatively identify only after checking out pictures on the internet. The ducks traversing the pond are either Mandarin or Quora. The female is a quiet color of brown, but the male is a shameless mix of brilliant colors—the only one missing is green. The ducklings are small enough that I can’t tell for sure how many of them there are.
For many years while I was working abroad, I made it my business to get to Hong Kong every chance I got. I loved the city. As a British colony in the far east—until it reverted to Chinese control in 1997—it was a beacon of freedom in a world of dictatorship, a shining star of capitalism and commercial success in a sea of poverty. The city was my refuge during my years in Southeast Asia between 1962 and 1975 when I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S. Many of the objects that now decorate my home came from Hong Kong, including a round dining room table, some five feet in diameter, made of a single piece of white marble resting on a metal pedestal. It’s so heavy that I can’t move it.
Cantonese is the Chinese dialect spoken by most natives of Hong Kong, but the anglicized name, “Hong Kong,” is actually a phonetic rendering of the city’s Cantonese name 香港 (heung gong), which literally means “Fragrant Harbor.” The Mandarin (or 國語—gwo yu, that is “national language”) dialect pronounces it Xiang Gảng, and in Vietnamese it is Hương Cảng.
China, since it took control of Hong Kong from the UK in 1997, has been tightening its control of the population and systematically withdrawing all freedoms from the population until nowadays the citizens of Hong Kong are no freer than the citizens of mainland Communist China. The most recent stroke was the unopposed “election” on May 8, 2022, of John Lee, Beijing’s selection to head the city. Ironically, Lee’s background is neither civil service nor business but police. He has made a career of limiting people’s freedom.
So the Hong Kong I knew is gone. I assume it is also no longer a commercial hub and one of the leading business centers of the world. It is now just one more despotic population center under the iron control of Xi Jinping.
I mourn the loss of a place that brought me happiness but is no more.
I know of no justification for the continuing use of executions in the U.S., but they are continuing. Arizona, for example, plans to execute Frank Jarvis Atwood on Wednesday, June 8, 2022, at the Central Unit of the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence, Arizona. Sixty-five-year-old Frank is convicted of murdering eight-year-old Vicki Lynne Hoskinson on September 17, 1984, in Tucson, Arizona. Atwood has until May 19 to choose between the gas chamber or lethal injection as the method of his execution. Either is horrifying to me.
We have evidence by the pound that execution does not deter criminals including murderers. Many Americans, myself included, find the death penalty egregiously immoral—no government has the right to take a citizen’s life. And execution is far more expensive than life imprisonment. Some estimate that it costs U.S. taxpayers between $50 and $90 million more per year (depending on the jurisdiction) to prosecute death penalty cases than life sentences. In Texas, one death penalty case costs the state about $2.3 million. That’s is three times higher than what it would cost to imprison one inmate in the highest security prison cell available for 40 years.
So we have no justification for continuing the barbaric practice of state killing.
It’s time for us to speak out and work for change.
The civilized world is moving away from the death penalty. While 55 countries still retain the executions for ordinary crimes, 108 countries have completely abolished the death penalty for all crimes, and 28 countries have effectively abolished the death penalty by not executing anyone over the past ten years. Only 20 countries were known to have carried out judicial executions in 2018, the most recent year for which I could garner statistics. Amnesty International recorded at least 690 executions worldwide in 2018, a 31 percent decline from the 993 executions it recorded in 2017 and 58 percent below the 25-year-high total of 1,634 reported executions in 2015.
The country that executes the most of its citizens is China. Because China refuses to make public the number of people it kills, we can only estimate; authorities suggest that number is more than a thousand a year. Other leading execution countries are Iran, Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia; the numbers killed range from a few dozen to hundreds.
Among the civilized democracies of the world, the U.S. is the only one that still puts people to death. It is the only G7 country to still execute people. In 2020, the U.S. executed 22 people.
By way of background: The Group of Seven (G7) is an inter-governmental political forum consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The Human Relations Indie Book Awards just informed me that my novel Last of the Annamese (Naval Institute Press, 2017) has received their 2022 Gold Winner for Historical and Realistic Fiction award. That makes Annamese my most awarded book. Eric Hoffer and the Maryland Writers Association both conferred honors on the book in years past. The novel is set during the fall of Saigon, from which I escaped under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city.
Annamese is fiction in name only. Every event related in the story really happened. But because the book is a novel, I attributed the actions taken to fictional characters rather than to myself and people I know.
I am honored that the story of what I and others endured during the fall of Saigon is being recognized and commended. After the years when Vietnam was considered a shameful war and I made no mention of my role in it (between 1962 and 1975, I spent more time in Vietnam than I did in the U.S.), I am now able to join my fellow Vietnam vets in pride in our contributions, even though it was the first war the U.S. ever lost.
I am humbled and honored to report that the Who’s Who of both Marquis and the Strathmore just informed me that they are including me as an author in their 2022 list of luminaries. Both sent me plaques that now share an honored wall space with my “Last Man Out” award given me by my 43 subordinates after Saigon fell and I got them and their families out safely.
I’ve written here before about my sense that the U.S. needs to join the rest of the civilized world by turning medical care into a government service for citizens. Instead, we, the capitalists of the world, make medicine a business, a way to make money.
The result is that those of us who can afford it have medical insurance to pay our medical bills. But, according to a 2021 survey conducted by West Health and Gallup, almost 10 percent of us, some 31.1 million people, lack health insurance. And a staggering 46 million people—nearly one-fifth of all Americans—cannot afford necessary healthcare services. One result is that many go without medical care; another is that medical debt among our population is huge. According to Small Town American Media, “Nearly 20 percent of Americans have some form of medical debt. Medical debt amounts to some of the greatest debt American’s hold. In total, Americans have about $141 billion in medical debt.”
When will we grow up, follow the model of the advanced democracies of the world, and treat medical care as a right instead of as a service for sale?