Profit-Driven Health Care

I have written before and will probably write again about the practice in the U.S. of making health care a profit-making business instead of a human right. That makes us the only major country in the world not to offer universal health care to its citizens. All the countries of Europe as well as all those that make up the U.K., including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, provide health care to their people. In fact, 116 nations world-wide do so. But we do not.

Why do we persist in making medicine a profit-driven proposition? I believe we Americans are inclined to see life in general in terms of profit and loss. We honor rugged individualism rather than cooperation. We condemn socialism, especially socialized medicine.

Defenders of for-profit medicine point out that most Americans have health insurance which covers the cost of medical care. But health insurance is a money-making business and therefore more expensive than government-provided health care. And, according to one source, about 44 million Americans have no health insurance. Another 38 million have inadequate health insurance that doesn’t cover the cost of their medical care.

Probably related is that life expectancy for Americans is lower than that in other modern democracies. The U.S. ranks 26th of 35 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries for life expectancy, with an average life expectancy of 79 years. Hong Kong, Japan, Macao, and Switzerland, for example, all have life expectancies over 84.

When will we Americans wake up and realize that universal health care provided by the government is vastly preferable to for-profit medicine? It is time for the U.S. to join the modern democracies of the world and start taking care of our citizens.

The Four Guys

Several days ago, I invited three friends to visit me for snacks and conversation to celebrate the end of the pandemic lockdown. We spent the afternoon on my deck talking about every subject that occurred to us. Two of us are progressives, two conservatives. But I, about as progressive as you can get, listened carefully to my two conservative friends explain their positions. They are intelligent, articulate, and honest. I always learn from them.

During the more than a year of the pandemic, I stayed isolated. Given my age and history of lung cancer, I was an obvious target for the coronavirus. So I saw no one. Once every week to ten days, I went grocery shopping, masked and keeping a six-foot distance from all others. I was one of the first to be vaccinated. Insulation kept me alive.

The Men’s Forum at a local senior center is about to resume its weekly meetings. My American Legion post has started meeting again once a month. So soon I’ll again have regular contact with others. What a blessing that will be. And I suspect that us four guys will continue to meet regularly.

The pandemic lockdown is ending. Hurray.

The Murderous Dr. Cream

I have just finished reading and reviewing Dean Jobb’s The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2021), due out later this month. As soon as the review is published on the internet, I’ll post the URL here.

Set in the late nineteenth century, Cream’s story is remarkable because he was a respectable and educated man—a physician—who nevertheless committed as many as ten murders in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. before he was caught, tried, and executed.

The book, unfortunately, is of a genre I’m not partial to: researched in depth and complete down to the minutest detail. But if I am to be fair, my personal taste cannot dictate the judgment expressed in the review. So I took a deep breath and buried myself in the particulars of Cream’s life and morbid career. The description of his execution by hanging was as detailed and specific as the rest of the text. Given my opposition to the death penalty, that section of the book was especially difficult for me.

The end result was, I hope, a fair description and judgment of a very good book of a type I don’t like. I believe that I gave readers an impartial description of a Victorian murder story. It’s up to them to decide if they want to expend the hours necessary to absorb it.

That’s what happens when one agrees to review books written by others: some are to this particular reader’s taste, others not. Personal likes and dislikes cannot shape the outcome.

My Books—Again

I have talked several times in this blog about my six books, all novels or short story collections. But a new development raised the subject again. I checked out the local authors’ listing at The Palette and the Page and discovered that all five of my hardcopy books (one book, Friendly Casualties, is an ebook only available at are listed.

The Palette and the Page is a combination book shop and gift store at 120 East Main Street in Elkton, Maryland. It is my favorite place to buy books.

That discovery spiked my pride in my achievements as an author. I retired from the government (I had been a linguist and a spy) as early as I could to write full time. Because I had spent the better part of thirteen years in Vietnam and spoke the three languages of Vietnam (Vietnamese, Chinese, and French) and because my work in later years was (and still is) classified, most of my writing is about Vietnam.

But the Vietnam conflict was exceedingly unpopular. Most Americans believed we never should have gone to war there. Our final defeat and withdrawal in 1975 were shameful. So for a number of years, my books didn’t sell. People didn’t want to know what happened in Vietnam. Then, half a dozen years ago, that attitude began to change. A new generation of Americans knew little about the Vietnam war and was curious. My books began to sell, and I was invited to do readings and presentations.

Now that the pandemic lockdown is coming to an end, I’m being invited to speak publicly again. Sale of my books will increase, and people will again want to know my story. Life won’t return to normal—the old normal is gone forever. But I’m ready to return to being with people in person again.

You can see my six books displayed at

The Parade

Every year, the American Legion, of which I am a proud member, participates in the Fourth of July parade that starts in Clarksville, Maryland, and ends up in southern Columbia, a distance of a couple of miles. Last year’s parade was cancelled because of the pandemic, so I was pleased to be able march this year.

I especially enjoy marching beside my American Legion compatriots. We veterans are becoming fewer over time, especially those of us who saw combat. I sense a feeling of brotherhood among my fellow Legion members unlike any other bonds I have. These men and women put their lives on the line for the good of others. I feel singularly honored to be among them.

And yet I am unique among them. My time in combat came after, not during, my military service (army). During my many years of supporting U.S. and friendly forces in combat on the battlefield with signals intelligence, I was a civilian. Granted I operated under cover as military. I pretended to be an enlisted man in whatever unit I was supporting so that the enemy would never discover that they had a spy in their midst.

When I tried, some years ago, to join the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), I was refused membership because during my time in combat, I was not in uniform—I was a civilian. The American Legion, on the other hand, welcomed me with open arms. Members assured me that I was one their heroes because of my many times in combat.

So it is with the American Legion, not the VFW, that I march every Fourth of July. This year’s was beyond doubt the most difficult parade for me. For the first time, I had trouble keeping up with the pace of the other marchers. My eighty-plus years are catching up with me, whether I deny it or not. Next year, I’ll have to ride in one of the military vehicles.

So be it. My pleasure and my honor are to be there with my brothers and sisters in arms expressing my fealty to my beloved country. I’ll do it every year for as long as I can.

The Fourth of July

Yesterday was the Fourth of July, the date we celebrate as the anniversary of the day our founding fathers declared that the United States of America was a free and independent nation, no longer under the control of the king of England. But the day the Continental Congress decided to declare independence was July 2, 1776. That was the day on which the 56 delegates to the Second Continental Congress at Independence Hall in Philadelphia authorized the Congress to approve the declaration. John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress at the time, was only person to sign the Declaration on July 4, 1776. Legend has it that Hancock signed his name so large because he wanted to make sure that “fat old King George” could read it without his spectacles. One result is that today, the term “John Hancock” has come to mean a person’s signature.

The majority of the signers of the declaration of independence, 41 of 56, were slave owners. One was Patrick Henry, famous for saying, “Give me liberty or give me death.” At the time of his death, he owned 67 slaves.

As Americans, we need to remember that our country, without question the greatest in the world, is not without its flaws. Even today the fallout of slavery remains with us in the form of prejudice that prevents Blacks from attaining equal status with Whites.

We still have a way to go in “forming a more perfect union,” as the preamble to the Constitution, drafted in 1787, puts it. That’s a project all of us need work on together.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I have written several times in this blog about my writer’s block and my inability to work on either of the novels I’ve been writing since the death of my partner, Su, in March 2020. I was working on a story set during the 1967 battle of Dak To in Vietnam, an event I was very much involved in. And I had been drafting a narrative drawn from the more than twenty years that Su and I had been together. Su’s death, in effect, put a stop to my writing.

The Dak To story was to have been about the situation I found myself in before and during the battle. I forewarned the commanding officers of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division and the 173rd Air Borne Brigade that a large North Vietnamese force was hidden in the hills to our west preparing to attack. I wasn’t believed, and one battalion from the 4th Infantry Division was badly mauled. What followed was one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam war. At the end, no territory had changed hands.

The novel based on my relationship with Su was to have been named Josh at the Door. It was to have been the story of a man and woman in their sixties who have an affair that lasts well into their eighties and beyond. When Su died, the story changed to that of an older man mourning the loss of his beloved. The title became Love in the Time of Coronavirus, in imitation of Love in the Time of Cholera, the great novel by Gabriel García Márquez.

Since Su’s death, even though I know what I want to write, the writing won’t come. I sit at the keyboard and wait for the story to flow, as it always has in all my other books and short stories. Nothing happens. Instead, I find myself thinking of Su and the good times we had together.

I believe that my only choice is to wait for my soul to heal and start again pumping out stories that demand to be written. In the meantime, I’ll have to content myself with silence.

The Supreme Court Polluted

The conservatives on the Supreme Court have done serious damage to the 15th and 24th Amendments to the Constitution and to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, all of which deny the right to vote on the basis of race. In a case called Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the court’s six conservatives—three of them put in place by Donald Trump—declared that an Arizona law which enacted voter restrictions could stand. One restriction outlawed “ballot harvesting”—which is Republican nomenclature for someone giving their mail-in ballot to somebody else to walk it to the drop-off location. The other allowed the state to discard votes accidentally cast at the wrong polling place. Both restrictions affect voters of color disproportionately.

We are now seeing the Trump effect writ large. The Supreme Court is no longer a neutral arbiter guaranteeing equal justice for all. It has become an instrument of the minority party—Republicans are greatly outnumbered by Democrats—which will assure that the interests of the well-to-do are protected.

The court’s judgment, enunciated earlier this week, has renewed the calls to expand the court and to limit the term of a judge so as to restore its progressive-conservative balance. I don’t claim to be enough of a legal scholar to know if the proposed changes would help or hurt the court. The only thing I can be sure of is the Trump’s presidency has left behind it permanent damage.

The Place Where His Glory Dwells

I’m an agnostic. I want to believe in the divine, but I can’t quite persuade myself. All the evidence I know of suggests that God is a myth. And yet I do not doubt the existence of the largest and most important segment of human life which is the noncorporeal. It is obvious to me that the human brain is the tool we use to think with, but our thoughts and especially our creativity—the work of the brain—exist in a world that has no physical being.

In hopes that the deity exists, I pray every night. One of the lines I recite comes from Psalm 26:8: “I have loved, oh Lord, the beauty of thy house and the place where thy glory dwells.”

Meanwhile, I have a deck on the back of my house that looks north over a pond, perhaps a hundred feet in diameter, half filled with water reeds and surrounded by majestic trees more than twice the height of my house. The view is breathtaking at all hours of the day and night.

But I just discovered the time when it is most beautiful. Some days ago, on a night with a full moon, I ventured out on the deck. I could hear the frogs in the pond doing their occasional croaks. The begonias in full bloom atop the entire deck rail glowed faintly. The lights from the houses built around the pond were completely obscured by the heavy foliage in the trees. It felt as though I was alone in the world.

But there was a new element I wasn’t expecting: fireflies. They twinkled on and off all over the pond and throughout the trees. And the words came to me: “I have loved, oh Lord, the beauty of thy house and the place where thy glory dwells.”

I realized what I should have known: the beauty of God’s house is with me always. All I have to do is look, and I will find it.

Tom Glenn, Skinflint (2)

After NSA hired me, I found, for the first time in my life, that I had more money than I knew what to do with. But by then, parsimony was an ingrained habit. I was generous with tips (I knew what it felt like to depend on them) and gave freely to charities (I knew poverty intimately) but scrimped on daily expenses.

So here I am long since retired with a substantial annuity and no money problems. But from a lifetime of habit, I still search for bargains, put off purchases until sales come along, and buy at the cheapest stores. Old habits die hard.

For all that, I have to thank Lady Luck for my good fortune. I didn’t seek well-paying jobs; they fell in my lap. Granted, I was blessed with rare talent for languages, but that was just luck, too. And I did work hard most of my life, and I was willing to put my life on the line for my country during combat. But almost without exception, I loved my work and believed it was my duty to risk my life for the good of others. Had I not done the very best I could, I would have failed to live up to my own standards. Worse, I would have failed my country and put the lives of my fellow warriors at risk.

So here I am, the old skinflint. I can think of worse fates.