Saturday, August 31, 2013




Piasecki Aircraft is an extraordinarily interesting company which was established by rotary aircraft pioneer, Frank Piasecki—who is arguably best known for developing the helicopter which ultimately led to that backbone of the U.S. Army, the CH-47 Chinook.

You’ve forgotten what it looks like? I’ve inserted a photo below to jog your memory.

Frank Piasecki’s contribution to rotary aviation was vast—and much of it was, arguably ahead of its time (by decades in some cases). Simply put, aircraft development is extremely expensive, and if the military didn’t have a requirement at the time, well then—on to the next concept.

Frank Piasecki was a compulsive inventor, a genius, and a brave man. He had the guts to test fly his own aircraft when they were still in development.

One area where Piasecki did a great deal of work was on ducted fans. His idea was to use ducted fans to power a sort of flying jeep. You will see an example of a ducted fan in the top photo.

Wiki describe a ducted fan as follows:

A ducted fan is a propulsion arrangement whereby a fan, which is a type of propeller, is mounted within a cylindrical shroud or duct. The duct reduces losses in thrust from the tips of the props, and varying the cross-section of the duct allows the designer to advantageously affect the velocity and pressure of the airflow according to Bernoulli's Principle.

DARPA have been pushing rotary aircraft development, and now they are backing a team made up of Lockheed Martin’s famed Skunk Works and Piasecki to develop and manufacture a protype of a ‘flying car’—only this time they are separating the flying part from the vehicle, so that, in effect, the ‘flying crane’ will be able to lift anything—a car, a cargo pod, or whatever. And it will be able to fly autonomously (no pilot or crew). It will also be able to carry a 4-person payload and fly 250 nautical miles on one tank of fuel.

The program is called Transformer (TX). Is the concept scalable? I suspect we are going to find out.

I am keenly interested in rotary aircraft, as regular readers will know, but I have also have been a supporter of Piasecki for some time, and even had the honor of working on a previous DARPA project as a consultant.

I am thrilled by this latest news, and wish the current Piasecki management, Frank’s sons, every good fortune. It is about time that the Piasecki name was in the news again. It deserves to appear more often.


Friday, August 30, 2013



File:LincolnNovel.jpgGore Vidal has long been one of my favorite authors—as well as one of the wittiest. Recent, I ran across a quote from him in that truly admirable blog, THE BIG PICTURE, which I regularly advise people to read.

The blog belongs to Barry Ritholz although he has guest bloggers and doubtless some help. It’s a comprehensive site whose primary emphasis is on financial matters—but Barry’s interests are eclectic.

But, now let’s hear from Gore Vidal on the thorny issue of whether all Americans are represented politically—or only a subset. The intros are from Barry Ritholz.

The old state of affairs in the USA:

“There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party… and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt – until recently – and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.

-Gore Vidal, Matters of Fact and of Fiction.

The current sad, but true, state of affairs:

“In the past, the United States has sometimes, kind of sardonically, been described as a one-party state: the business party with two factions called Democrats and Republicans. That’s no longer true. It’s still a one-party state, the business party. But it only has one faction. The faction is moderate Republicans, who are now called Democrats. There are virtually no moderate Republicans in what’s called the Republican Party and virtually no liberal Democrats in what’s called the Democratic [sic] Party. It’s basically a party of what would be moderate Republicans and similarly, Richard Nixon would be way at the left of the political spectrum today. Eisenhower would be in outer space.”

-Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor and professor (emeritus) of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in his keynote address at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany, 17 June 2013.

Thursday, August 29, 2013



Writers are in the execution business. Fundamentally, writing is not something you talk about—it is something you do.

Clearly, if you are collaborating with someone you talk to them (though there are exceptions even in that case) but mostly—if you are wise—you keep your thoughts to yourself until you have finished. And by “finished” I mean you have done everything you reasonably can to make your work as good as possible.

You behave this way because somehow the creative process seems to be affected if you talk about your ideas before they have been transmuted into the written word. Talking has a tendency to break the spell. Writing is magic you will surely know.

Mark Slouka wrote a perceptive and amusing piece about all this in the New York Times of August 24 2013. It is headed: Don’t Ask What I’m Writing

Here are a couple of non-sequential extracts. The whole piece is well worth reading.

Want to lose a friend who’s a writer? Ask her, a month in, how it’s going. Better still, ask her to describe what she’s working on. She’ll try, because she has to (“Well, it’s about this friendship between these two, um, friends . . . ”) all the while listening to the magic leaking out of the balloon, and she’ll hate you for it.

Writing, I figure, at least any writing worth reading, isn’t done by committee, and though I haven’t always been strong enough to live by this precept, I’ll stand by it nonetheless: Your vision is your own, for better or worse.

These reminders should be on the wall above my desk: 1. Trust a few, necessary voices. 2. Try, as much as possible, to avoid torturing these brave souls with your own insecurities. 3. Shut up and write.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013



Head and shoulders portraitI wrote about Steve Jobs recently, but forgot to mention that he made one point of particular interest to me—which I will explain in a moment.

He said that the difference between the best and worst in most occupations was arguably two to one—or something along those lines—whereas the difference between the best and the worst, when it came to writing software (and, by implication computer science in general) could be a hundred to one.

Frankly, I am not sure he is quite right—in terms of the figures he quoted—but I accept his general point that, in certain sectors, the difference between the merely competent, and the exceptional, is vast. And the number of such exceptional people is decidedly limited. One was J. Robert Oppenheimer (see photo) who led the scientific team which developed the atomic bomb.

I used this theme in developing my plot for SATAN’S SMILE. In the book, cutting-edge scientists (the kind of people who make breakthroughs) are being assassinated in order to cut down the U.S.’s technological lead—and then one of the killers loses control and starts killing for the sake of killing. What results is horrendous—but I won’t say more in the interests of maintaining suspense.

Do I believe in the concept of A-List talent which is disproportionately superior? Well, I have talked to enough people—particularly scientists—to have become persuaded. Further, I have no doubt at all that, despite our huge pool of scientists, whittling away at the elite would have an impact—and probably a pivotal impact at that.

In Job’s case, he said he decided to build his team entirely from such exceptional people—and the result was the Mac (which was, and remains, so superior to the PC that one can but marvel). He also remarked  that such people were exceptionally hard to manage—and needed tough, demanding, rigorous, leadership (which, inevitably, some absolutely hated).

Based on my experience and observation, many teams boast some extremely competent people, but few teams are composed entirely of the exceptional. They are hard to find and hard to keep—and they make conventional managements uncomfortable.

Competence versus outstanding talent—it’s a concept worthy of considerably more thought than it receives. This isn’t to deny the importance of competence. We have to rely on it since most of us peak at such a stage. However, I have to wonder what could be achieved if we aimed higher—much higher—and if we focused such talent on some of our more intractable problems.

The context for such thinking is worth considering. Over the last few decades, the U.S. has lost its leadership position in sector after sector to the point where the economic wellbeing of the average American is under threat. In short, the trend lines are not encouraging. Beyond that, we are letting more and more of our problem areas—from education to exports to poverty—become intractable. But, can the Jobs approach be made relevant to non-scientific situations?  Given political will, I see no reason why not.

The case for a fresh approach would seem to be strong. But, will it happen? 


Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.

― Steve Jobs

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


MY REMARKABLE SISTER LUCY IN AUSTRALIA (she normally lives in London)

The photo was taken by our sister, Hermione, and I really like it. Hard to believe that Lucy has five exceptionally good-looking children—most of them grown up. Hermione, by the way, actually lives in Australia and Lucy was visiting.

We siblings are decidedly scattered. I live in Seattle, Washington in the U.S., and sister Leslie lives in France.

Lucy is the youngest, but the real head of the family.

ECONOMIC MOJO: There is an interesting article in Time about Nobel economist Edward Phelp’s new book Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change. How is that for a short and snappy title!

Phelps is trying to figure out why our current rate of economic growth is so anemic.  Well, I have my own ideas in this regard—and have strong reservations about using GDP as an adequate measurement of our economic wellbeing—but a couple of paragraphs, in particular, caught my eye. They are deeply troubling.

Another troubling development, in Phelps’ view, is the culture of short-termism that has enveloped both corporate America and Wall Street. America’s most significant firms are run not by entrepreneurs but by professional managers who are incentivized to think about quarterly profits rather than long-term growth. Indeed the average tenure of a Fortune 500 executive is just 4.6 years, hardly enough time to lead a company towards visionary innovation. And as the financial sector becomes more and more concentrated, these firms are being funded by a small number of massive funds that are concerned about short term profits while having little intimate knowledge of the businesses to which they allocate capital.

And finally Phelps argues that the American populace itself has lost its appetite for innovation. New businesses are being started at a slower rate than they have been in more than 30 years, and fewer Americans work at small companies. Phelps cites studies which show that while Americans haven’t lost their appreciation for entrepreneurial values, they increasingly value the safety and stability of a job at a large company and more robust government benefits.

Read more:

Monday, August 26, 2013



I watched STEVE JOBS: The Lost Interview last night on Netflix—and was hugely impressed by the sheer clarity of the man’s mind. Most of us don’t think too clearly, and many of us don’t seem to think at all—except in the context of what we need to do to survive.

Jobs not only thought clearly, but could also explain his reasoning simply and succinctly—and entertainingly. He may have been difficult to work for—most people of caliber are—but he was a singular talent.

The whole interview made me wonder why we don’t, as a society, devote more attention to finding and utilizing clear thinkers. I suspect that since most of us are fuzzy thinkers, we are afraid of them. Mediocrity tends to prefer mediocrity.

Jobs made many insightful comments during the interview. I particularly liked his comment that computer science was one of the liberal arts—and that everyone should learn to program. I had a classical education, but think he was entirely right in that regard.

He was both complimentary and amusingly brutal about Microsoft. He praised them for their opportunistic skills and endurance, but was scathing about their lack of taste. He also referred to Microsoft as McDonalds. What a perfect description!

I followed the computer evolution with keen interest, but was hampered by my lack of computer knowledge. I was looking for a tool which would compensate for my dyslexia and the other inadequacies of my mind. I knew I would never research, think and write the way I wanted to unless I was successful in that quest. It was an obsession and I have put huge effort it over many years. Accordingly, I regard the way the young take computers, tablets and similar devices for granted with wry amusement.

The pioneering phase was tough, let me tell you—and frustrating beyond belief—but it was also fascinating.

Have I been successful in my quest? Not quite.


The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.

― Chinese proverb

Sunday, August 25, 2013



James Matthew Barrie00.jpgToday I wrote 4,200 words—in addition to blogging. That equates to over 1.5 million words a year which is really going some. Doubtless Edgar Wallace did better, but he dictated.

Perhaps I should. Frankly, I’m not sure I could.

I admire those who can, but my typical daily output tends to top out at 2,000 words a day. That equates to 730,000 words a year, which sounds impressive, but much of that is devoted to answering fan letters and the like.

Here, I don’t wish to minimize the importance of fan letters. I try and answer each one individually because you guys keep me alive. You raise my morale just when it is flagging—and your timing is uncanny. I find it hard to overstress the importance of this—and how much I appreciate it.

Reportedly, J,M. Barrie of Peter Pan fame wrote 500,000 words a year by hand. Now that is just plain awesome.

Before his death, he gave the rights to the Peter Pan works to London's Great Ormond Street Hospital, which continues to benefit from them.

While a child, my daughter Kira was operated on in Great Ormond Street to her great benefit. I hold the place in high regard. It is, as you may know, a leading children’s hospital.

J.M.Barrie was knighted in 1913 and died in 1937.

Saturday, August 24, 2013



Today started with the internet being down due to a network problem,  I was reduced to moderately deep depression. I like to start the day by doing a focused media trawl—and when deprived of that, start to twitch.

Well, maybe I don’t actually twitch—but you get the idea.

My media guru then appeared mid-morning—he is the fittest man I have ever met and computes standing-up while exercising on an upwardly inclined treadmill (entirely true) so I regard him with some awe. Anyway, soon he had everything working again, and then vanished into the sky leaving a trail of fiery crimson.

No, I tell a lie. On the other hand, the lie sounds so much better.

Matters continued to improve. Good things happened (which I cannot reveal).

All in all, not a bad Saturday.

THE PHOTO: Edgar Wallace was an important educational influence as far as I was concerned. The man wrote a mind-boggling 175 novels—and that was just part of it. Here is what Wiki says about him.

Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace (1 April 1875 – 10 February 1932) was an English crime writer, journalist, novelist, screenwriter, and playwright, who wrote 175 novels, 24 plays, and numerous articles in newspapers and journals.

Over 160 films have been made of his novels. In the 1920s, one of Wallace's publishers claimed that a quarter of all books read in England were written by him.[1] He is most famous today as the co-creator of King Kong, writing the early screenplay and story for the movie, as well as a short story "King Kong" (1933) credited to him and Draycott Dell. He was known for theJ. G. Reeder detective stories, The Four Just Men, The Ringer, and for creating the Green Archer character.

Friday, August 23, 2013



After a truly satisfying week’s work, I will now admit that I’m exhausted to the point that my eyes have that achy feeling—more from general fatigue than from the eyes as such.

Now here is an odd finding about my eyes. Though I have been wearing glasses for most of my life (I’m extremely short-sighted in my right eye) and though I have been diagnosed as needing glasses to use my computer—I rarely wear them at all—and seem to be getting along fine even though I spend a formidable amount of time in front of the computer.

Not sure what that all means, but I’m going with the flow.

By the way, when I was a kid—and because my mother didn’t believe in eye tests and things, so I didn’t have glasses—I taught myself to shoot a rifle left-handed, and still shoot that way even though I am right-handed as far as everything else is concerned.

THE GRAPHIC: This is rather interesting and not something I would have assumed automatically.

A study of about 8,300 people suggests that viewers recall ads better when they watch them on tablets than when they watch them on smartphones, TVs or computers.

Thursday, August 22, 2013



It’s scarcely a secret that U.S. education is in serious trouble—endless articles have been written about the subject and numerous recommendations have been made.

Most have been ignored. The paralysis that characterizes U.S. politics extends to U.S. education.

One aspect that arguably doesn’t get the attention it deserves is the depressing fact that those who run many of our leading colleges and universities seem to share the same delusions of grandeur as the CEO’s of our major corporation.

Some examples of this and other egregious behavior.

Read and weep!

Source: Generation Progress

Wednesday, August 21, 2013



DataPro StorefrontI am experiencing a good run of work. True, I’m old enough to have retired four years ago (I’m 69) but confess I greatly enjoy my work—particularly if I’m writing (almost anything). What else could any sane human being want to do?

Still, now and then the practicalities of life intervene and I have to address matters like how to get an adapter, or a new cable, so I could plug my spare monitor into my laptop. Its much loved Samsung predecessor had died. Why two monitors? Because I have two eyes of course.

No, because I like to put my source material on one screen and write on the other. Adopting this simple method caused my productivity to rocket—and research says that is a pretty general experience.

Adapter hunting sounds simple—but I tried Radio Shack and Staples to no avail (they were impressively ignorant) so reverted to the internet (which is where I should have gone in the first place).

After wasting a great deal of time, I finally ran across a Seattle based company called DataPro which boasted a clearer than average website and seemed to know their stuff. Besides, I’m a great believer in supporting the home team. I then decided to e-mail them to avoid being further lost in the intricacies of DVI (don’t ask).

I received an impressively clear, well written reply within minutes. This was so unlike most technical support departments that I nearly went into shock. The hero was called BRADEN  MICHAELSEN (and I imagine he still is).

Then commenced an exchange of e-mails while Braden tried to educate me in the complexities of cables—useful for everything from suicide to strangling people who use leaf-blowers—a pet hate of mine—and quite handy for connecting electronic gizmos.

Years ago I ran a company which made a fetish of service. I was much criticized for the cost of all this—but it worked like a charm.

Glad to see that an old fashioned idea like looking after your customers pays off. Who knows but the next innovation may be the novel idea of looking after your staff too!

Kudos to Braden and Datapro. Go there and buy cables. They have plenty (the things copulate)—and they’re better for you than Fast Food.

LIBRARY BORROWERS & BOOKS: Having one’s intellectual property handed out for free concerns many authors. Nonetheless, it is comforting to know that library users buy an impressive 3.2 books a month (each, you will be relieved to hear). Source: Overdrive and the American Library Association.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013



I would like to be able to explain my connection with the above portrait—but right now I can’t. But it is a truly striking painting by an artist I had never heard of before, but wish I had. Great talent is so uplifting. I always get a special thrill—a buzz, a high—when I encounter it.

But how do you know your judgment is right?

That’s a good question—and I don’t profess to know the answer. I can but guess.

I suspect it has a great deal to do with one’s environment when growing up. If you grow up surrounded by beautiful things, you will—probably—learn to appreciate what makes them so admirable.

Part of it may be genetic.

The painter of the above portrait is the phenomenal black Jamaican artist, Barrington Watson—a truly awesome talent. As Nelson Mandela is to African politics, Barrington Watson is to art.

Yet most of us have never heard of the man. We are the poorer for it—for talent inspires us all.

Monday, August 19, 2013



where do americans spend their money

I hadn’t intended to write about the economy today, but I found the above graphic too appealing to resist. I got it from a newsletter called mybudget360 which I have been subscribing to for some years.

It tends to be somewhat blunt about the realities of our economic condition. That is another way of saying that it doesn’t gloss over the more painful realities in the manner of our major media.

Let me include some brief examples of its style.

Once again, home prices are rising at an intense pace unjustified by underlying economics.  More to the point, it appears that over the last few years large financial institutions are leveraging the easy money provided by the Fed to invest in real estate crowding out regular families.  In 2013 the largest buyer of real estate in the US is the investor class (the first time in history this has happened).  Home prices are moving up by double-digits yet incomes look like this:


Household income still shows dramatic signs of weakness so how is it that home prices are up by double-digits?  Again, the largest buyers are not typical families but investors that have access to the easy debt provided by the Fed.

Going back to the chart above, Americans also spend a good amount of money on food, energy, and utilities.  These are impacted by fuel so let us look at how gas is doing:

gas prices

The price of gas has quadrupled since 2000 yet incomes are stagnant.  So more money is being allocated to the necessities of life and less disposable income is left.  If we look at the MIT BPP inflation figure we see that yes, prices continue to go up.

The consequences of declining incomes plus price inflation—which the government does not measure accurately—cannot bode well for most Americans. And yet, there is no groundswell of rage—as there would be in many other countries.

Ignorance or inertia? Both, I suspect. Not a good situation. 


Success is not to be measured by the position someone has reached in life, but the obstacles he has overcome while trying to succeed.

― Booker T. Washington

Sunday, August 18, 2013



The Atlantic is a truly marvelous magazine which seems to cover most subjects relevant to the human condition—with the exception of sports. Historically, it was a monthly, but now its online version is updated with quality articles daily. It seems to understand the internet—and its readers--in a way many other publications do not.

I first started to read it regularly after famed Atlantic journalist, Jim Fallows (a delightful man), interviewed me about matters military – the incentive being a flight in his Cirrus aircraft.

Recently the Atlantic published a piece which truly resonated with me—and I suspect with many. Here are several extracts:

How America's 'Culture of Hustling' Is Dark and Empty

One of America’s worst crimes, according to cultural historian and social critic Morris Berman, is the cultivation of a “culture of hustling.” Hustling—the surrender of everything to market forces and the sacrifice of life to consumer culture—is an energizing and often enriching enterprise, but it is ultimately empty, depressing, and destructive.

Most Americans have a dull sense that their lives are fundamentally “off”—because for the most part, they are. They hate their lives, but to get through the day, besides taking Prozac and consulting their cell phone every two minutes, they talk themselves into believing that they want to be doing what they are doing. This is probably the major source of illness in our culture, whether physical or mental.

This is, in some ways, the subject of my book Why America Failed. America is essentially about hustling, and that goes back more than 400 years. It’s practically genetic, in the U.S., by now; the programming is so deep, and so much out of conscious awareness, that very few Americans can break free of it. They’re really sleepwalking through life, living out a narrative that is not of their own making, while thinking they are in the driver’s seat.

This is tough stuff, and whereas I’m not sure I would go as far as Mr. Berman—my view of the U.S. is not that bleak (I have experienced too many good things here)—but I think he is absolute right about “A Culture of Hustling”—and the nation is the worse for it.

From an author’s point of view, publishers currently want someone who is a salesman first—with a Social Media following to prove it—and only then are they interested. The writing is demonstrably second.

That is pretty damned sick—and terribly sad.

PHOTO: Another of my sister Lucy’s photographs taken during her recent trip to Australia. I have never been myself, unfortunately.

Saturday, August 17, 2013



I was deep into my second sleep this morning—after having risen early to work for two hours—when I was woken by a gift of a large slice of a particularly delicious melon. I contemplated homicide—because my Saturday sleep is sacred—but I’ll confess the melon was, and is (what’s left of it), quite superb.  

The photo of pelicans is from my sister Lucy’s recent trip to Australia to see my sister Hermione. It seems to have been quite a trip.

Yes, I know I should really show a photo of her—or them—but I have a great weakness for pelicans.

How do I know they are Australian pelicans? Because Lucy is the glue that holds our family together—and entirely trustworthy.

Friday, August 16, 2013



I have spent today trying to catch up with my blogs. I won’t succeed completely, of course, but my hope is to get my recent blogs up to date by the close of the weekend. As of this last week, I am currently missing Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Why do I allow myself to get into arrears at all? I think it has to do with the fact that there is a limit to one’s creative energy—and sometimes I feel there are other priorities. I tend to swear under my breath when that happens because I know perfectly well that it is much easier to write a blog on the day than to backtrack.

Alternatively, one could argue that I lack adequate writing discipline—and I would plead guilty, though I am a very disciplined writer. But am I disciplined enough? Clearly not.

Writing—despite my passion for it, and the fact that I can focus on demand—remains a struggle with my own character and with the distractions of everyday life.

If that sounds somewhat depressing, you would be entirely wrong. It is also an immensely rewarding experience.


All things must change

To something new, to something strange

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Thursday, August 15, 2013



I’m far from convinced that the profit motive should be regarded as the driving force in our society.Certainly, we all aspire to a reasonable standard of living for both ourselves and our dependents, but that can be quite humble in material terms—and beyond that there is huge satisfaction to be gained from the work itself.

“Oh well, you’re creative,” you will say, “and couldn’t possibly understand;” but—as a practical matter—a whole slew of people, in a wide variety of walks of life, are content with a modest salary if the work drives them. Some work for non-profits, others are educators, many work for the government—and so it goes on to constitute a remarkably long list.

“But people love their private sector jobs,” I hear you cry. The evidence is, of course, to the contrary—a scarcely surprising fact given the very large number of U.S. jobs which are not rewarded by a living wage, combined with a culture which grants the worst worker rights in the developed world—from maternity leave to vacations—and where health care costs are increasingly being transferred to the worker. Beyond that, the defined pension is vanishing, private sector unions have been mostly crushed, and job security is the stuff of legend. And yet we are the richest, most powerful nation in the world!

There is palpably something wrong here.

It seems to me that we need to think about this stuff—and rebalance our culture. As matters stand, we are in moral, as well as financial, decline. And it’s a rapid process.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013



toon-1394It is my belief that one of the greatest obstacles to informed discourse of how we live—or should live—is distraction rather than outright lies.

True, we are exposed to a seemingly endless stream of lies about every facet of our existence—from the quality of the food we eat (highly suspect) to our national prosperity (in serious trouble)—but the really dangerous elements in the propaganda that we are subject to from birth to death are best described as distractions. After all, what better way to stop people thinking and to make them malleable.

Here, I don’t want to overestimate the propensity of people to think critically—the evidence is not encouraging—but to make the point that deliberate, contrived distraction plays a much greater role in our lives than most of us are willing to admit. We delude ourselves that, of course we think about the issues—and make intelligent judgments—but the evidence does not support that conclusion. Essentially, we work, we slump, and we sleep—and, of course, we medicate to excess (much easier than thinking).

Such is the reality of human nature. We are a worthy species in many ways, but deeply flawed. We lie, we steal, we cheat, we kill—but, above all, we delude ourselves. Intellectual rigor is not our strong point. Instead, we cling to our prejudices and our comfort zones—virtually regardless of the evidence. And we are also hypocrites to an extent that is hard to over-state.

  • We despise Congress but vote in the same corrupt members again and again.
  • We preach fair play and democracy, but tolerate gerrymandering and the denial of the vote to many.
  • A majority of us call ourselves Christian, yet show remarkably little social concern compared to the populations of the rest of the Developed World. Indeed, we seem quite content to cultivate an ever increasing sub-class, to tolerate nearly 50 million people on food stamps, and to treat the unemployed with contempt (bear in mind that not only is unemployment pay minimal, but, for various technical reasons, only about half who are eligible actually receive it).

All in all, such a mindset has made me regard the Social Media with great skepticism. They are, without question, both distracting and time-consuming. They flatter your ego—encouraging your narcissist side—and their motives are rarely yours.

And yet…

The jury is out as far as I am concerned. Possibly, far out. Nonetheless, I confess a weakness for LinkedIn—which seems to be of practical benefit—and for such book oriented sites as Goodreads and AuthorsDen.

But the core issue is distraction. Some of these peripheral activities may have merit, but the core issue is the writing itself. Such absolutely has to be one’s primary focus.







Tuesday, August 13, 2013



Photo of General George Patton urinating in the Rhine RiverYou might enjoy the following from Col D. G. Swinford, USMC, Ret and history buff. You would really have to dig deep to get this kind of ringside seat to history:  

This photo of Patton doesn’t show him actually peeing—as best I can determine—but it was taken on that day, March 24 1945. 

1. The first German serviceman killed in WW II was killed by the Japanese ( China , 1937), The first American serviceman killed was killed by the Russians ( Finland 1940); The highest ranking American killed was Lt Gen Lesley McNair, killed by the US Army Air Corps.    

2. The youngest US serviceman was 12 years old: Calvin Graham, USN. He was wounded and given a Dishonorable Discharge for lying about his age. His benefits were later restored by act of Congress.  

3. At the time of Pearl Harbor, the top US Navy command was called CINCUS (pronounced 'sink us'); The shoulder patch of the US Army's 45th Infantry division was the swastika. Hitler's private train was named 'Amerika.' All three were soon changed for PR purposes.     

4. More US servicemen died in the Air Corps than the Marine Corps. While  completing the required 30 missions, an airman's chance of being killed was 71%.  

5. Generally speaking, there was no such thing as an average fighter pilot. You were either an ace or a target. For instance, Japanese Ace Hiroyoshi Nishizawa shot down over 80 planes. He died while a passenger on a cargo plane.    

6. It was a common practice on fighter planes to load every 5th round with a tracer round to aid in aiming. This was a big mistake. Tracers had different ballistics so (at long range) if your tracers were hitting the target 80%  of your rounds were missing. Worse yet tracers instantly told your enemy he was under fire and from which direction. Worst of all was the practice of loading a string of tracers at the end of the belt to tell you that you were out of ammo. This was definitely not something you wanted to tell the enemy. Units that stopped using tracers saw their success rate nearly double and their loss rate go down.     

7. When allied armies reached the Rhine, the first thing men did was pee in it. This was pretty universal from the lowest private to Winston Churchill (who made a big show of it) and Gen. Patton (who had himself photographed in the act).    

8. German Me-264 bombers were capable of bombing New York City, but they decided it wasn't worth the effort.  

9. German submarine U-120 was sunk by a malfunctioning toilet.  

10. Among the first 'Germans' captured at Normandy were several Koreans. They had been forced to fight for the Japanese Army until they were captured by the Russians and forced to fight for the Russian Army until they were captured by the Germans and forced to fight for the German Army until they were captured by the US Army.    

11. Following a massive naval bombardment, 35,000 United States and Canadian troops stormed ashore at Kiska, in the Aleutian Islands. 21 troops were killed in the assault on the island. It could have been worse if there had actually been any Japanese on the island.

Monday, August 12, 2013



Despite all the hype about growth—minimal growth may I add—and despite recent statistical changes which have resulted in an increase in our reported GDP, plus the Fed buying $85 billions worth of bonds every month—some very disturbing things are happening to this economy which do not bode well for the majority of Americans.

  • Income inequality is at an unprecedented level. A few are getting ever richer while the earning power of most Americans is actually decreasing.
  • The share of our national income going to corporate profits is higher than it has ever been.
  • The share of our national income being paid to people as wages and salaries is at its lowest since the figures were first recorded.
  • The share of corporate profits going to financial institutions was 11 percent back in 1947. That share has now risen to 42 percent—and the Fed projects it to rise still further.
  • Corporate investment in the kind of activities that create well paid jobs is way below the historical norm.
  • Federal and state investment in infrastructure is way below what is actually required.
  • Walmart’s U.S. sales have actually declined.

So what does all this mean? It means we have a financial economy based upon speculation rather than investment—and which is of little good to most Americans—operating side by side with a traditional economy which is suffering from under-investment, and where the labor force is being squeezed and squeezed and squeezed.

Decreasing earnings combined with higher prices leads inevitably to having less money to spend which, in turn, leads to fewer people being required to produce goods. That is a death spiral as far as jobs and the economy are concerned.

The above are only a few of the structural problems of this economy. There are many, many more.

IRONY: The primary blame for the recent Great Recession lies with the major financial institutions, yet not only have they scarcely suffered in an significant way, but they are now bigger than they were before the Great Recession and are the primary beneficiaries of the Fed’s $85 billion a month of quantitative easing. The total cost of the great recession has been estimated at $14 trillion plus—and it is being born by the average American taxpayer. That is injustice on a truly epic scale, but it is the logical outcome when the political system is effectively owned by the rich and their corporations.



Sunday, August 11, 2013



I have never been to a greyhound race—my education is sadly lacking in some ways—but as I understand it, greyhounds are encouraged to do their very best by dangling a lure in front of them—which they never actually catch.

There is writing in a nutshell. No matter how hard you try, no matter how brilliant your prose, you will never write quite as well as you want.

It appears we are a bunch of masochists. What else can you call people who court failure so consistently?

Or perhaps we are dreamers? I’m damned if I know the answer. I will say that the effort—just in itself—is extraordinarily rewarding (albeit brutal in the effort it requires).

Saturday, August 10, 2013



Saturday is my self-appointed day of rest so you may well wonder why I work for a couple of hours before sleeping again.

I guess curiosity is the main reason. But what I can say is that second sleep—for up to four more hours—makes all the difference. And such was this Saturday.

I tend to do a great deal more additional reading on Saturdays—after I have struggled into consciousness—normally following a specific theme. Military matters interest me greatly—as does the state of the economy.

Currently, I am decidedly puzzled as to the state of the economy. The media, as a whole, seem to be obsessed with as to whether Larry Summers or Janet Yellen will be next to head up the Fed; whereas I’m focused as to whether our existing economic system works adequately or not. Note that I wrote ‘adequately.’ I am not so naïve as to aspect perfection.

So far—and I am trying to have an open mind—my conclusion is that the current U.S. business model is deeply flawed and not working to the benefit of most Americans—which, I believe—should be its goal.

But I don’t let steam come out of my ears on my day of rest. I’m just sad that such a great country—the richest in the world—does so badly by so many of its citizens.

Friday, August 9, 2013



My evening entertainment recently has come courtesy of a lady called Lynda La Plante who I can only describe as a writing phenomenon. Damn it, the woman is so talented that she leaves her competition (including me) in the dust. I am in awe. What is worse is that she is not only a brilliant screenwriter, but apparently an equally talented crime novelist. I am green with both envy and admiration. And she is good-looking into the bargain.

You are now going to say you’ve never heard of the woman. Well you probably would have if you lived in the UK where her talents are so widely recognized that she has been awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire)—theoretically by the Queen, but actually by the British government—for services to the nation.

I first heard of her through watching PRIME SUSPECT—which she wrote—starring Helen Mirren back in 1991 as the feisty and sexual DCI Jane Tennison making her way in what was then a man’s world. Hard to believe that was 22 years ago!

Prime Suspect was not a one-off. Her other productions—such as I have seen—are equally good.  They include THE COMMANDER and TRIAL & RETRIBUTION. You can see them on Netflix.

FACTS: Lynda La Plante was born in 1943, was a successful actress before turning to screenwriting, and these days has her own production company. She is also impressively prolific.

Thursday, August 8, 2013



I tend to hunt down experts if I want to know something for a book—and in the process have met some remarkable people, many of whom subsequently became friends.

One such was a Royal Marine NCO sniper called John Napier who was involved in the first ground action in the Falkland’s war—the re-taking of South Georgia. The weather was vile, the British were heavily outnumbered, and the Argentinians were warm and snug inside heated buildings. Outside, conditions were artic.

When I asked John why they had gone up against such superior odds, he remarked that “It was too bloody cold to do otherwise.” Their attack was entirely successful.

The marines performed with distinction in the Falkland’s war and developed a reputation for “fighting smart” as well as effectively. For instance, whereas other units attacked Argentine units entrenched in the hills around Port Stanley in classic infantry fashion—using suppressive fire, grenades and flanking attacks—the marines identified all the main enemy positions and took them out with Milan missiles (a relatively novel approach back in 1982). A consequence was that they kept their casualties way down.

The Royal Marines are a tiny force—they number slightly over 8,000 strong—compared to the USMC (which pretends it’s small but numbers around 200,000), but they are particularly well trained and are regarded as highly effective. Basic training for marines, for instance, lasts 34 weeks—and, for officers, a formidable 64 weeks. After that comes endless  specialized training. They have fought just about everywhere—and don’t seem inclined to change their ways.

John’s first taste of combat involved assaulting Indonesian infiltrators during what was known as the Indonesian Confrontation—one of the UK’s numerous colonial wars. He remarked that the attack went well, but they hadn’t planned how to exfiltrate—so that ended up as something of a mess. Thereafter, he commented, “I always planned how to bug out before going in.”

The last I heard of John was that he was doing strange and dangerous things in Russia.

WW II TRIVIA: The last U.S. marine killed in WW2 was killed by a can of spam. He was on the ground as a POW in Japan when rescue flights dropping food and supplies came over, the package came apart in the air and a stray can of spam hit him and killed him.  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013



While writing about Sandy Woodward yesterday, I forgot to mention that although I was back in my cottage for the fighting, I was actually in Devon, on the South coast of  the UK, at the very beginning of the war. I was accompanied by a West Waterford man, Jimmy Crowley, and we were on on our way to Germany to see a fish smoker (don’t ask!).

We were in Devon, on the South Coast, because our car had broken down—and in an area which is highly defense oriented and where the convoy which was going to re-take the Falklands was being prepared. Military traffic clogged the roads. It was all quite dramatic and exciting in a grim sort of way—and I was reminded of the preparations for D-Day that had taken place in the same area some 40 years earlier. No, I had not witnessed them—I was born in May 1944—but I have certainly read enough, and seen enough news clips about them, since then. The D-Day preparations were humungous. The emphasis, in this case, was less on size, than on speed.

Now being Anglo-Irish and educated in the UK, I don’t have an Irish accent—but Jimmy’s is quite pronounced. That was to lead to trouble because we were overheard talking in a pub, and it was immediately assumed we were IRA. After all, if I didn’t have an Irish accent, I did have a beard. The police were informed.

On the third day, while we were having breakfast, a half dozen or so armed detectives appeared and peremptorily asked to see our rooms and to carry out a search. Under counter-terrorism regulations, they did not need a warrant.

My heart sank—with good reason. I had a red dot gun-sight in my baggage and it didn’t take them long to find it. In their eyes that made me a terrorist, for sure.

The detective in charge—a superintendent, as I recall—stared at me with an unfriendly gaze and said: “Well, Mr. O’Reilly, how can you explain this?”

“I like to have a physical item—a talisman if you will—to associate with each book,” I said. “Since I write thrillers, such items tend to reflect such a genre. Previously, I have bought a shotgun and a Sykes Fairbairn fighting knife. This time, I opted for the gun sight.”

The detective gave me an absolutely incredulous look. This was the worst story he had heard in years (though true). It seemed highly likely I was going to be locked up for a considerable time. They can do that under the anti-terrorism laws.

Gardaí.jpgFortunately, I had taken the precaution of making myself known to the police in Ireland—and the local garda (the Irish police are known as the Garda Siochana) sergeant where I lived was a friend. He was a rather amazing man called Vincent Bergin from Cappoqin, Co. Waterford.

After extensive enquiries, both of us were released, we made it to Germany, and returned in time for me to follow the fighting from the cottage.

Jimmy—he of the Irish accent—had actually served in the British Army—and had no doubt at all about the outcome. “We’ll go through the Argies like a knife through butter,” he said (and he wasn’t far wrong).

I don’t know how many times that I have been detained, or questioned, or roughed up by the police, or military, or private security (more times than I care to contemplate), but if you write the sort of stuff I do—and keep up to date with weaponry and matters military—it is an occupational hazard.

Such incidents also makes for a good story. At the time, they are not so funny.

FALKLANDS FACT: The British expeditionary force that was tasked to re-take the Falklands from the Argentinians set sail within three days of the invasion. It was a quite astounding logistical feat. Over 100 ships were involved.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013



I followed the whole Falkland’s campaign obsessively from my thatched cottage in Ireland—a decidedly primitive structure made entirely from local materials, but wonderfully evocative and romantic.

The cottage boasted TV at the time—all of two channels—but the truly compelling coverage seemed to come by radio at night; and it had the added advantage that the rats, who were gnawing through the ceiling above me, were temporarily silenced. My rats were nothing if not BBC fans—and fascinated by the Falklands conflict. I killed them all eventually, but clearly we shared some tastes.

The task of defeating the Argentinians was a mission impossible according to U.S. military experts at the time. The Argentinians—who had seized the island--were well dug in and air support from the Argentine mainland was relatively close. Their troops on the island outnumbered the British nearly four to one. Their excellent air force was locally superior in numbers. In contrast, the British faced appalling logistic difficulties because they had to come some ungodly distance—over 8,000 miles—from the UK.

It was a war that the British could easily have lost—and, arguably, should have lost. They suffered a number of serious setbacks, but thanks to a great commander, Sir John ‘Sandy’ Woodward, and quite remarkable fortitude, they won. It was a close-run thing primarily because of British naval losses from air attacks which created formidable logistical headaches. These included the loss of most of their heavy lift helicopters when the container ship, the Atlantic Conveyor, was sunk by Argentine missiles.

One CH-47 Chinook survived because it happened to be airborne at the time. Despite lacking spares and all sorts of supposedly essential supporting gear, it went on to: carry some 1,500 troops, 95 casualties, 650 POWs and 550 tons of cargo. That said, mostly the British troops, once landed, just walked. The weather, as normal in the Falklands, was foul—cold, wet, and windy.

Where the infantry were concerned, though some Argentinian units fought hard, the British—outnumbered though they were—outfought the Argentinians at every turn in a series of classic military actions. British special forces were also involved to singular effect.

CASUALTIES: The conflict lasted 74 days. 649 Argentinians were killed and 255 British. 3 Falklands islanders also died.

British Sea Harriers, despite being stationed out of range of Argentine aircraft—which limited their time on station—and facing superior numbers of faster high performance fighters, shot down an astonishing 20 Argentine aircraft. They also provided ground support. Two Harriers were lost to ground fire and two to accidents. None were lost to hostile aircraft.

By any standards, that has to be considered a truly remarkable performance.

Monday, August 5, 2013



We are having truly marvelous weather at present in Seattle—so my high window, appropriately protected by a mesh screen—is open. The good news is that this cools the room. The bad news is that I can hear rather more stuff than I care to—and noise can be distracting.

Between you and me, I had thought that my hearing had been degraded as a result of spending far too long within yards of M1A1 tanks firing (a story for another day) but now I am not so sure. My hearing can’t be that bad if I can hear every munch my local squirrel is making.

He used to inhabit the dead tree, and I would see him regularly. Since that was cut down—to avoid crashing on a neighbor (anti-social behavior)—I have seen him less often.

This morning, he was crouched on top of a fencepost—perhaps twelve feet away—and I could both see and hear every munch.

I was much cheered.

When I was a child I had Siamese cats as pets and loved them dearly. Later, I seemed to be mainly preoccupied with babies—with the odd cat thrown in because babies like cats and the feeling seems to be mutual.

After that, though I get on fine with cats and dogs and babies, I became attracted by the idea of enjoying a pet while not really owning it. It appears I have a libertarian streak.

My first candidate was a bantam hen, who appeared as if from nowhere, and who liked to strut within my vision—while I was trying to write—until I had acknowledged him. After that, he would do his own thing. That mainly involved pecking for food, strutting, and servicing his harem of bantam hens. I had no idea where they came from from either, but they seemed to appreciate his attention. He was a beautiful creature and—as best as I could determine—consisted mainly of testosterone.

I christened him Yul Brynner because few people could strut like Brynner. I bought him and his retinue corn meal, but otherwise left them to their own devices. They took over my pump house to sleep in.

There is a great deal to be said for having a pet you don’t own.


Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.

― Albert Schweitzer






Sunday, August 4, 2013



I confess I don’t feel entirely easy unless I’m working on a major writing project. Currently, I have one in waiting—the completion of a novel which was going exceptionally well when I had to break off to do other things—so my peace of mind leaves something to be desired. A little voice keeps whispering in my ear: “You should be writing. You should be writing. And blogging isn’t enough.”

My reactions are pretty typical: You write with absolute focus and intensity for months; experience a profound reaction when the project is completed; and then yearn to immerse yourself in whatever writing task comes next. And I am decidedly not short of ideas.

As matters stand, I have been tidying up a number of administrative matters, and am trying to figure out a major web site which went badly wrong. Since the website is mine, I have no choice but to give it my close attention—but resolving it is proving to be damnably difficult. The problem lies not with content—which I have already written—but with layout and communication. And the thing is huge. Though it is divided into short sections, and is easy to navigate, it is extremely comprehensive. It’s the WAR & PEACE of websites. I’m not encouraged by the thought  that Tolstoy spent ten years on his opus. To spend ten years on my website would seem to be carrying perfectionism to excess.

Incidentally, if you haven’t read Tolstoy’s masterpiece, you haven’t lived. I first read it in my early teens and it was a life changing event. It is also surprisingly easy to read.

It’s at times like these that I wish I had wider skills. For years I thought writing skills would be sufficient for a writing career. That was naïve in itself because the successful author has always needed inter-personal, political, and marketing skills—and to be a good public speaker has never gone amiss.

Today, I deeply regret that I never trained as a graphic designer, am not adequately familiar with constructing a web site, and cannot both program and maintain a computer. Paradoxically, though we have entered an age of ultra-specialization, we also need to be equipped with a range of mostly computer-based practical skills. Overall, I’m not sure it is a bad thing—but I wish I had known earlier.

Writing apart, I am a good strategic planner, can speak entertainingly, am a pretty good economist, a fair historian, an excellent researcher, a talented analyst, and my knowledge of both terrorism and military matters is considerable—but HTML makes me hang my head. God knows, I understand the principles—they are not that complicated—but my brains screams: “Life is too short for this!” Writing entertainingly with clarity and pace is a life’s work in itself.

Such is the world of the writer in the 21st century. By the 22nd century, I expect robots and software will be doing all the work—including writing.

I don’t think I’m going to worry about that.

CHAIN BOOKSTORES: According to Bowker Market Research, U.S. chain bookstores (Barnes & Noble etc.) lost 13 percent of their share of book purchases in 2012. Overall, such booksellers saw their share decrease from 13 percent to 19 percent of volume.

In contrast, e-retailers (Amazon etc.) saw their share of book purchases by volume increase from 25 percent in 2010 to 44 percent in 2012.

Book browsing—one of my favorite pastimes—is at risk.