Friday, January 31, 2014


Given the amount I read and write about the economy, you would think I would have run across the term ‘precariat’ before. After all, I’ve written about the condition on a number of occasions. But, somehow I missed the actual word until now.

Here is what Wiki says about it:

In sociology and economics, precariat is a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security. Specifically, it is applied to the condition of lack of job security, in other words intermittent employment or underemployment and the resultant precarious existence.[1]

The term is obtained by merging precarious with proletariat.[2]

The British economist Guy Standing has analyzed the precariat as a new emerging social class in work done for the think tank Policy Network and a subsequent book Precariat: The New Dangerous Class[1][5] and claims for a basic income as a solution for addressing the problem.

The corporation, which keeps keeps your hours down (typically to avoid having to pay you some benefit or other), yet insists you be on call—unpaid of course—just in case you are needed, is turning you into a precariat.

Unpleasant word for an unpleasant condition.

It’s disgusting corporate behavior—and it is becoming endemic in retail and food service.

It’s time to do away with such nastiness—especially as an unpredictable schedule is typically combined with lousy pay.

Stressing out your employees also makes them ill because—as is well proven—there is a direct relationship between your emotions and your health.  Quite how that benefits a corporation beats me. Instead, it has to lead to a loss of productivity.

Many corporations don’t seem to know this, but treating your employees with common human decency isn’t incompatible with profitability. In fact—let me tell you a secret—it can enhance it.

“The moral is to the physical as three is to one.” Works in war—and in business too. We owe that oft demonstrated insight to Napoleon.


Thursday, January 30, 2014


I’m a great believer in technology, yet decidedly disappointed in what we do with it. For example, despite extraordinary technological advances over the last 40 odd years, real household earnings haven’t increased as far as most Americas are concerned—yet economic insecurity has increased massively. That means tens of millions live in fear—and millions are simply desperate.

How do I know? I walk and I see—and it touches my heart.

Yes, there have been advances in healthcare—at nearly twice the cost compared with other developed countries—but our lifestyles are not healthier. In fact, the contrary is the situation. We age sicker and we die sooner (unless we are wealthy).

Where housing is concerned, you would think by now we would have advanced enough to make sure that everyone was housed in a cost-effective, energy efficient way, but the Ancient Romans could give us a run for the money—and they seem to have paid more attention to their infrastructure.

As for how we govern ourselves, despite vast improvements in communications, we seem to have nearly made this country highly controllable—but ungovernable.

Why are we doing so badly? Other countries have made much more out of technology, and have a superior quality of life.

Here is how IBM Research thinks technological innovation will improve our lives within only five years.

  • The classroom will learn you: No student is alike. So why should we be taught as if one size fits all? Advancements in cognitive systems will give teachers the insights and tools to understand a student's development throughout their learning careers -- and tailor the curriculum to how each student learns. The systems, powered by sophisticated analytics delivered via the cloud, will draw on everything from test scores to teachers' notes. Teachers, for instance, could predict which students are most at risk and provide options on how to help them master critical skills.
  • Doctors will use your DNA to keep you well: Big data, analytics and cognitive computing will transform healthcare. They will help doctors quickly parse through the avalanche of medical information they deal with and tap into new sources, such as genomics, to diagnose and treat illnesses more quickly and effectively. For instance, computers could help doctors understand how a cancer tumor affects a patient down to the DNA level and present a collective set of medications proven to best attack the cancer. Also, the time it takes to pinpoint the right treatment could be slashed from weeks to minutes.
  • The city will help you live in it: Using sensors, smart devices, social media and cloud computing, cities will track billions of events. Whether it's tracking water system usage, traffic patterns, or looming snow storms to anticipate issues or crafting responses before problems develop, cities will learn to be proactive about reaching out and meeting their citizens' needs. For instance, mobile devices and social engagementwill enable citizens to strike up relationships with city leaders so their voices will be heard not only on election day, but every day.
  • A digital guardian will protect you online: All the different IDs and devices we have make us that much more vulnerable to hacks and fraud. In five years, each of us will have our own virtual guardian that, by learning about us, will know how we use different devices. This will help our "guardian" automatically spot patterns that could be precursors to a cyber attack or a stolen identity and advise us right away -- all while safeguarding the privacy of our personal information.
  • Buying local will beat online: Savvy retailers will use what makes brick-and-mortar stores so compelling -- the ability to try on a dress, hold a mixing bowl, or ask a sales person's advice -- to turn the tables on online-only stores. Using cognitive systems and augmented reality, merchants will equip salespeople and stores with the devices and equipment they need to anticipate individual customers' needs while also helping consumers consult with their social media connections about purchases. This innovation will magnify the digital experience by bringing the web right to where the shopper can physically touch it.

Do I believe them? I’d love to. However, unless we develop our political institutions, moral code, and sense of social justice as fast and as fundamentally as we advance technology, I have a horrible feeling that all these advances are going to make this potentially wonderful country a nastier, greedier, even more corporately controlled place—and the plutocrats will still be running it (or at least blocking significant reform).

I hate being this negative, by the way. I’m a thriller writer, and have a distinct preference for happy endings—albeit after gratuitous sex, plenty of action, a substantial body count—all judiciously sprinkled with irony and humor (and I throw in some interesting characters and exotic locations).

As I have said previously, I get my inspiration from real life. Only the happy endings are drawn from fiction.

The writer chuckled—and after a long day, decided it was time for a glass of wine.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


low wage education

Subject to some—and perhaps many—notable exceptions, it seems to me that American business culture has gone badly adrift in ways that are ultimately going to prove to be fundamentally bad for business and U.S. society in general. And, by the way, that degradation is not just an opinion—it is well underway and there is all too much data to prove it.

That practicality apart, there is something unpleasant about much (not all) of Big Business behavior at present.

It’s mean; it’s nasty; and it’s morally wrong. It corrodes integrity. It brings out the worst in people. It stinks. It reeks of greed, ignorance, pettiness, and stupidity—and it is leading to a declining standard of living for most of the population.

Why there isn’t a national outcry over this amazes me. The figures are clear. Politicians know this—and yet the kind of drastic action that is needed is not taking place.

Could it be because Big Business owns our politicians, our media, our financial institutions, many of our jobs, and virtually all the instruments of social control?

I guess it could. So what are the consequences of this?

Corporate profits and the stock market may be at a record high, but the earning power of most of the working population is sinking, we have a near permanent trade deficit, our infrastructure is crumbling, our innovation lead has largely vanished, and we are losing ground in trade sector after trade sector. Ironically, in many cases we are being out-exported by competitors—such as the Germans—whose labor costs are significantly higher than ours. 

How do the Germans do this? They treat their workers better (working with them, not against them), invest more in education, training and innovation—and, in many cases, produce better products than we do. It is also note-worthy, that the German economy is much less financialized than ours. In short, the focus of German efforts is on the real economy, not Wall Street. Such differences add up to a German Business Model that is radically at variance with ours, but which is still capitalist. They just do business better. We need to think about that.

But the Germans are exceptional? No, they are not. It is a sobering fact, but when it comes to the economic wellbeing of most of the population, most developed nation are doing better than the U.S. right now—and many developing nations are hot on their heels..

This corruption of the American Business Model appears to have started in the Seventies when the concept that business’s only obligation was to increase shareholder value became widely accepted—despite the screamingly obvious fact that it is clearly nonsense (not to mention despicable).

The reality is that a business does not exist in glorious isolation and appear fully formed—as if by magic. It is a product of society, is multi-faceted, is inter-dependent—and relies heavily on the educational system, infrastructure and government in general—and particularly on its employees, suppliers, customers, and the local community. In short, a business has wide obligations with shareholders being only one element—and, not infrequently, a fleeting element at that. Where public companies are concerned, its shares are constantly being traded. In contrast, other elements in the mix, such as employees, may be there for years. Treating employees as if there are a disposable commodity is not only morally wrong, but a bad business practice.

Let me list just some of the more egregious manifestations of this corruption of the American Business Model—where much of Big Business is concerned.

  • A deliberate policy of squeezing employee pay to the point where many employees are on Food Stamps and other government assistance. In effect, such businesses are having their payrolls subsidized by the government.
  • A deliberate policy of increasing CEO and senior executive pay to the point where it is hundreds of times that of the typical employee.
  • A deliberate policy of buying back shares to inflate the share price—because that is how most CEOs and senior executives receive most of their pay. In a sane world, given that those who initiate such purchases—the CEOS and senior executives—know more about the company than the market in general, this would be regarded as insider trading, and thus illegal.
  • A deliberate policy of removing the defined pension despite clear evidence that 401Ks are less secure.
  • A deliberate policy of crushing unions in any way possible—both legal and illegal.  
  • A deliberate policy of under-investing in research—and in innovation in general.
  • A deliberate policy of under-investing in training—while then complaining that business cannot find enough employees with the requisite skills.
  • A deliberate policy of exporting jobs—while accepting no responsibility for the wellbeing of their former U.S. employees.
  • An indifference to the exporting of expertise, particularly in the research and manufacturing areas, thus giving our competitors an advantage. This lack of concern for the National Interest extends to defense secrets.
  • An implacable opposition to the extension of worker rights—even in the face of evidence that such worker rights can enhance productivity.

Perhaps the nastiest aspect of the current American Business Model is the drive to reduce pay combined with increasing medical contributions and removing the defined pension. Then, as if that little lot did not constitute a sufficient increase in economic insecurity, many companies—particularly in the retail and food service area deliberately keep hours below a certain threshold—thus further diminishing earnings.

The problem doesn’t lie with capitalism as such. It lies with the American version—otherwise known as the American Business Model (ABM).

If we had the good sense to modify the ABM—we could take off like a rocket.

Will we? As matters stand it is finely balanced. Meanwhile our competitors think we are ridiculous—and are roaring ahead.

In contrast, we are self-destructing. When it comes to examining the corpse of what was once the most powerful nation in the world, the United States of America, I have no doubt at all about the verdict.







Tuesday, January 28, 2014


People show courage in all kinds of ways—and far more often than perhaps we appreciate.

Do we give it enough credit? Probably not. It is one of the more admirable human qualities, and it’s all around us. It takes considerable courage just to live.

Where dying is involved, you don’t have much choice in the matter—though you need it in spades when attending the dying. 

Inevitable or not, I have witnessed incredible courage from the dying. If I can die as well as Jo Curran, who I helped to look after several years ago as she was dying of cancer, I will have met the highest standard.

When I was young, physical courage seemed to be the main focus. It was the most talked about and respected at boarding school—and it was an underlying theme in many of the books I read; and in virtually all movies.

This caused me some concern. It did not seem to me that I was physically brave—and having a vivid imagination doesn’t help—and I suffer severely from vertigo. Meanwhile, my peers were doing all kinds of daring things—from rock climbing to scuba diving—and seemed to be relatively immune to fear.

I thought about this quite a bit because for some time it seemed inevitable that I would join the Army. Compulsory National Service (conscription)—was still in force—and the chances of seeing action in those days were high as one dirty little war followed another. Malaya, Kenya, Borneo, Egypt, Cyprus, Aden—the winding down of the British Empire was scarcely a peaceful business. It was bloody. The Northern Ireland Troubles hadn’t started then—though they flared up in a few years. Then, since I lived in Ireland, I had a war I could commute to.

I was reminded of an epic line from a Robert Mitchum movie—whose title I forget. In it, he climbs into a taxi and says: “Take me to the war.” Now that is cool. I never expected it to become my reality.

How would I cope when under fire? The ultimate pejorative term was to be called a coward.

As it happens, conscription was abolished so I never had the chance to find out how I would have fared in the military. And I certainly didn’t intend to volunteer for further years of boarding-school type discipline, topped up with incoming gunfire coming from people I had no desire to kill.

Over the decades, I have spent considerable time with various military units—and have even enjoyed the dubious pleasure of coming under fire and being in danger in other ways—and have found that there is much that is attractive about that world (apart from being shot at). But I have never regretted my decision to remain a civilian. It’s hard to let your mind roam freely in such a disciplined world. 

This left vertigo to deal with. To resolve that, while I was security guard in London (a temporary job while I was a student) I climbed onto the roof of a skyscraper I was guarding,  and stood on the very edge, my toes protruding, the wind gusting as I leant forward—and then looked down its 20 plus stories.

I still get the chills when I recall the event—and suffice to say it didn’t work, and may have been the stupidest thing I have ever done (and the competition is considerable). I still hate heights, though paradoxically I love small plane and helicopter flying—even when it’s dangerous.

Helicopters—ridiculous machines—are just plain special. But that is another story.

While at university, I began to appreciate moral courage—and to observe that it was decidedly less common than the physical kind. Even when some issue or other clearly demanded that one should take action, depressingly few people seemed willing to stand up to be counted. I didn’t understand that because my standard, in that area, was my much loved, and high-minded grandmother, who would speak to any just cause—within the orbit of good judgment—regardless of the odds. And who did so with considerable success; and no manifestation of self-righteousness. In fact, it was that lack of self-righteousness that was one of her most attractive qualities. She was an innately humble protagonist—and a magnificent human being.

Though I respect courage in all its forms, I admire moral courage the most. It’s what drives the search for a better way of life for us all—and it has an impressive track record. Often it is combined with physical courage—though not always. It can be exceedingly stressful and the price can be high. It’s less common for good reasons. It tends to be crushed ruthlessly in large organizations—and today we live in a world of large organizations.

Moral courage’s great enemy is careerism—which, loosely defined, means putting your own personal advancement ahead of what is clearly the right thing to do. It is currently rife in the U.S. I encountered it frequently in the Pentagon where there is a saying—about the officer corps—that many officers prefer to risk their life rather than their career.

True? True enough unfortunately. Careerism (in essence, another word for greed) has become culturally acceptable—which helps to explain why the richest country in the world today tolerates neglecting the basic economic wellbeing of so many fellow Americans.

I find this inexplicable, unacceptable—and just plain bad business. If you so underpay your workforce that they can’t afford to buy the goods you make, the consequences are predictable. 

I first became aware of courage in the creative area through the theater. I was much exposed to this world because various family members, and girlfriends, were involved with it—and it was because of this that I came to appreciate how much courage it took to act in front of an audience. In fact, some performers would throw up before going on stage, but would still do the deed. I found that impressive—and still do.

My one and only acting experience was in JULIUS CAESAR while at school. There I had to make one speech—while on bended knee—and then help to carry Caesar’s corpse off stage. I was a slave. The only trouble was that the wings were not really deep enough to conceal us stretcher-bearers and the stretcher—so the first stretcher-bearer had to step into a circular staircase that ran to the floor below. That worked well enough during rehearsals, but on the day of the performance the tempo was somewhat brisker—and I inadvertently pushed the first stretcher-bearer, the stretcher, and Caesar’s corpse down the stairs. Unsuitable language and my laughter punctuated Shakespeare’s fine words. Being dead didn’t hinder Caesar on jot.

The most tempting aspect of the theatrical world, as far as I was concerned, was that it provided access to pretty girls and beautiful women—sex in a word—but since I had access to the theatrical milieu though my girlfriend, I was never seriously tempted. I didn’t have the looks, the acting talent, or the temperament. Besides, when it came to standing up in front of an audience, I was unashamedly a coward. Not entirely true. I admire the courage of actors—something we mostly take for granted—and am ashamed in their contrast. Acting takes guts.

Paradoxically, I have come to enjoy public speaking, and have become quite good at it. Although I am sure my technique can be improved, I can hold and entertain an audience—and particularly enjoy the Q&A aspect. So what’s the difference between public speaking and the theater? In the former, you have considerable flexibility and can trust to your wits. Where the latter is concerned, you have to know your lines—and I have never had much talent for rote learning.

Does writing require courage? In terms of economic risk, it most certainly does. In fact, in that context, it’s a high-wire act with a long drop, and without a net. But, it doesn’t stop there. You also have to face the fact that you are putting your best efforts forward to be judged by millions of people—if you are lucky—and possibly eviscerated by critics. And the publishing world itself can be brutal. So, yes, it does take courage—a very special kind of courage—to be a writer. Special because you have to remain brave (or pretend to be) for long periods of time; and that is particularly tough. Fear has a cumulative impact.

I gained that insight in Northern Ireland when I was rammed up against a wall, a sub-machine gun in my back, by a patrolling soldier—his section backing him up. What the f—was I doing walking in Belfast at four in the morning? I have no idea what I said in reply. I will ever remember the sweat of fear on his rawboned face. He had to patrol night after night—never knowing when a sniper would take him out.

The truth is that having been in one gunfight, I was looking for more action. Madness in retrospect. Bur I was on an adrenalin high.

But, one good thing about book-writing is that you can take as long as is necessary—within reason—to polish your work to an appropriate standard—and thus minimize the risk of being skewered.

Blogging is high risk because it’s spontaneous, revealing, and there isn’t really the time to edit out your errors—especially if you blog frequently.

For these and other reasons, I didn’t take to blogging initially—and blogged somewhat erratically. I then began to appreciate that if writing is fundamentally about “illuminating the human condition,”—which is the standard I hold to—then  revealing one’s flaws, fears, and imperfections is a risk one has to take.

The truth—honesty if you will—is what makes the best form of communication work—and writing is the high ground of communication. Seeking out one’s own truth is a serious, and rather frightening, commitment—even with a little humor thrown in.

Does it make sense? If that was my standard, my life would be very different. But, it’s a great adventure—and what else is life, but an adventure—a magnificent adventure, with a beginning, a middle, and an end?

Life is a story.

Besides, right now, I haven’t the courage to stop.












Monday, January 27, 2014


Jacqueline FilmPoster.jpegWhen I was hovering on the edge of puberty—and maybe a little bit further than that—I was much taken with a girl called Jacqueline Ryan.

I had met her through the acting school that my sister, Maxine, had attended—and she was the first of several young actresses that I was infatuated with.  Let me rephrase: lusted after (excluding Jacqueline—we were a little young at the time).

One, Liz Davis, became a girlfriend over quite a number of years—and then re-emerged as my uncle’s lover. To say I was mind-boggled doesn’t come close—but, to be fair, he, Godfrey Quigley, a successful actor and producer,wasn’t a blood relation.  He was married to my stepfather’s sister, Genevieve. After they divorced, he and Liz lived together—very happily—for many years. After he died of Alzheimer’s, Liz—having announced what she was going to do—committed suicide despite considerable efforts to prevent her doing so. When she had said that she couldn’t live without Godfrey, she had meant just that. Along with many others, I was devastated.

One eluded me near completely (we had some pleasant moments).

The third was my first: Jacqueline. I’m not sure we even kissed.

It may feel good to be the king—but it’s a great thing to have a sister who is an actress. It speeds up the whole introduction process.

My relationship with Jacqueline was entirely innocent—though if it had lasted a little longer it certainly would not have been. Unfortunately, Jacqueline’s mother had exquisite good timing—and whipped Jacqueline away just at the transition point.

Damn the woman!

I doubt I was the reason. Both my mother and Jacqueline’s had daughters of the same age—and both were trying to achieve their own theatrical ambitions through them. They were friends who came to loathe each other. 

My mother was the more charismatic. Jacqueline’s mother, Phyllis Ryan, was the more financially focused and the better businesswoman. In fact, she went on to become one of Ireland’s most successful theatrical producers. That development didn’t do much to enhance my sister Maxine’s acting career—though she became extremely successful on the radio.

To my consternation, Jacqueline—after starring in a movie with John Gregson (a major British movie star at the time) simply vanished. I heard later that she had quarreled with her mother and gone to work in the UK prison service. 

True or false? I have no idea. But it’s such a ridiculous story, it may be true.

She was a good friend; and her photo kept me going when I was away at boarding school.

You can Google the movie JACQUELINE. It was made in 1956 in Belfast, Northern Ireland—and it’s in Wikipedia (and other locations).

Here is what Wikipedia says about Phyllis Ryan:

Phyllis Ryan (27 July 1920 – 6 June 2011) was an Irish actress and theatrical producer.

Wanting to get into theatre management, she launched Orion Productions in 1956. In 1958 came Gemini Productions, based for many years in Dublin's Eblana Theatre in the Busarus. A tiny theatre, famously without wings, it was open from 17 September 1959 until 1995.

Ryan was in the 1960s and 1970s the major producer of new plays in Ireland outside of the Abbey Theatre. Phyllis Ryan and her Gemini Productions kept independent theatre alive in Dublin and premièred most of the work of playwright John B. Keane. The playwrights – Brian Friel, Joe O'Donnell, Tom Murphy and others – that Gemini nurtured were later adopted by the Abbey and other theatres.[1]

She wrote and published her memoirs, The Company I Kept, in 1996.

My mother regarded Phyllis as something of a bitch. Perhaps so—but  Irish theater owes her a great debt of gratitude—and she deserves a longer more detailed entry in Wiki.

I’d do the deed, but I just don’t know enough. 

I would just like to know where Jacqueline is. Good friends are sorely missed, and hard to come by.

A kiss—albeit a little late—would would seem appropriate after near sixty years.





Sunday, January 26, 2014


I mention cognition fairly frequently because my mind does my writing—the alternative is decidedly creepy—and writing is the primary focus of my life. That being so, I fear being unable to write due to the decline of my mental facilities a great deal more than I fear death (which I don’t really fear because it is both natural and inevitable).

But, do we decline mentally with age? Clearly, in some cases we do—Alzheimer's being a noteworthy cause—and medications probably being another one (in my opinion—I have no evidence to support that). However, a recent article in The Daily Telegraph of January 20 2014 advances a different point of view—one that I have privately wondered about for some time.

Older people do not decline mentally with age, it just takes them longer to recall facts because they have more information in their brains, scientists believe.

Much like a computer struggles as the hard drive gets full up, so to do humans take longer to access information, it has been suggested.

Researchers say this slowing down it is not the same as cognitive decline.

“The human brain works slower in old age,” said Dr. Michael Ramscar, “but only because we have stored more information over time

“The brains of older people do not get weak. On the contrary, they simply know more.”

A team at Tübingen University in Germany programmed a computer to read a certain amount each day and learn new words and commands.

When the researchers let a computer “read” only so much, its performance on cognitive tests resembled that of a young adult.

But if the same computer was exposed to the experiences we might encounter over a lifetime – with reading simulated over decades – its performance now looked like that of an older adult.

Often it was slower, but not because its processing capacity had declined. Rather, increased “experience” had caused the computer’s database to grow, giving it more data to process – which takes time.

The study was published in the Journal of Topics in Cognitive Science

Now, what am I writing about? I forget.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


Trying to keep your mind under some sort of control is fundamental to life—and decidedly helpful when it comes to writing.

Personally, I find that trying to harness my mind is a difficult, but rewarding, task where I have to be content with small victories at best.

What can I say! The thing seems to have ambitions of independence! And that damned subconscious is out of control—and sneaky with it.

So why should such limited progress be rewarding? Damned if I know, but there is something particularly satisfying about exerting some small degree of control over something so wild and yet so powerful.

Here, I’m talking about minds generally. I think.

Wild and powerful? No, I’m not thinking of women in this context (clearly untrue). But any man who thinks he can control a woman is deluded—and the world will be a better place when we fully accept that fact (now this I believe).

Difficult because I have a particularly active mind—something I have been told all too often (and not always as a compliment)?

But is that true? My ego likes the idea. You know the reality is that I have no idea how other minds work—and not much of an idea how my own mind works. I wish I did, in some ways (though there is a great deal to be said for a good mystery). I sometimes think that if I had to live my life all over again, I’d study cognition.

Perhaps, but I’d still be a writer!

One tends to make certain assumptions about someone else’s mind based on external signs like how they communicate and function (because how else can you form a view?) but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that someone, who appears profoundly stupid externally, has an extraordinary inner life.

I didn’t always hold that opinion—I categorized and judged just like most of us do—but I have gradually come around to the view that the mind should never be underestimated. I find that a happy thought—though it tends to retreat to the recesses when I encounter many of the vicissitudes of everyday life.

Stupid SOB etc. Not something I’m proud of, and not something I really believe. What I truly believe—and I cannot emphasize this too much—is  that the potential of most of us is untapped.

I find one of the best ways of both energizing and harnessing my mind is to walk. It might be better still to jog, or work out in a gym—and I have tried both for considerable periods of time—but walking has been a feature of most of my life; and is just about the best way of noticing one’s surroundings.

In essence, apart from its benefits as an exercise—and the fact that it takes you somewhere (not many Americans know this) —walking is about soaking up atmosphere and observing detail; and detail is a writer’s friend.

Detail adds color, gradation, verisimilitude, and subtlety (what a mouthful). That said, I spend a great deal of time leaving it out when I actually write. As with salt, you don’t want too much of a good thing. Still, even if it doesn’t go into the book, it helps me if I know it. Detail inspires. It inspires confidence to know what is really going on. And the mundane can be a stepping stone to the unexpected—and thriller writers like myself are rather fond of the unexpected.

Just as well since half the time we don’t know what will pop up as we write. There is a spontaneity to the process that is invigorating.

It’s hard to deny that cars are useful things—though I think they play far too large  role in the American Way of Life—but I’m not overly keen on them except in the context of one’s love life. There they seem to be just plain necessary in many situations—especially in the U.S..

I don’t mean to be cynical when I say this, but love and lust are so much a matter of logistics. However, one of the downsides of being in a vehicle is that you are insulated from your surroundings, and from other people. You see less of more. You never meet the poor. Driving is not conducive to empathy. Walking is. Walking hand in hand with your lover or your children will melt your heart. 

Love life apart—and yes, I am referring to one’s sex life as well (they overlap, but they are not necessarily the same) walking has featured in many of the most enjoyable, exhilarating, exciting—and just plain dangerous—parts of my life. In fact, it was walking which yielded the breakthrough which led me to becoming a published author.

There is nothing like finding a freshly hanged body in a lonely wood to stimulate the creative juices. He was hanging from a thin blue rope. Oddly enough, it wasn’t the first body I had found—and both had broken necks. I found the first one when I was about five, and walking back from the local village after buying cigarettes for my mother.

Alone? Yes indeed. They were less politically correct times, and I was the eldest so elected.

It was a routine chore—roughly 20 minutes either way. The shopkeeper knew me as “the little boy who wore a pith helmet and bought Craven A by the carton.”

I was very proud of the pith helmet. It had been a gift from one of mother’s boyfriends. As for the cigarettes, most adults seemed to smoke—and drink—in those days. Later my mother switched to the French cigarette, Gauloises.

A motor-cyclist failed to make a turn, crashed into a wall in front of me, and broke his neck. He was a body by the time I reached him which was only seconds later. The term “corpse” may be more specific. How could I tell? It had to do with the angle and twist of his neck (and later it was confirmed by a report in the local paper). Despite his smashing into a wall, I don’t recall any blood on the first one. The second was gross. Hangings can be like that.

I have always wondered will I find another. I think of it most times that I walk.

Odd, you may think!

Well, after you have found a hanged body suspended from a rope, with an elongated neck, and blood and mucous forming a river from mouth to torso, let me know if you will forget in a hurry.





Friday, January 24, 2014


I don't know any writer who likes being rejected, but if you are going to write for the public, you had better get used to it— and toughen up.

Easy to say. Harder to do. Do it anyway. 

Virtually every author has been rejected at some time or other—many of us multiple times.

It hurts both pride and bank balance—and the waiting is exceedingly stressful.

Keep your cool.  As a good friend of mine likes to say: “Life is about managing your fears.” If you are a creative, empathetic, somewhat introverted type—highly likely if you are a writer (and note that I didn’t use the word ‘sensitive’)—it becomes even more important to manage them well. Whatever you feel like inside—act the part of the ever resilient, resourceful writer. Do that convincingly, and after a while, you will be just that. There is magic in this business. 

Much as a combat soldier expects to be shot at, a writer must expect rejection. Press on regardless. Press on beyond what seems reasonable. Rejection is not failure (though it can feel like it). It's just part of the process. Writing is a long game—and a tough one. It may take years, or even decades, to make your mark. Fortitude is a requirement.

Where traditional publishing is concerned, you pretty much have to have an agent, and that's where rejection starts—because it is difficult to get an agent. You are likely to be rejected again and again.

However, assuming you do finally get one, then you merely step up to the privilege of being rejected by publishers. Normally, they will do that through your agent—frequently for reasons that have nothing to do with your writing. It’s easier for them, but it won’t hurt any less. Don’t show your pain.

The lunch your agent paid for was not up to scratch; their list might be full; they might have no faith in your particular genre; they mightn't like the typeface; they might have had a row with their lover and just feel plain vicious - and so on. In truth, it is highly possible that they haven’t even looked at your work.

It is very, very, easy to be rejected. It is what editors do when they are not hacking your manuscript to pieces. It's a power thing, you may well think.  Perhaps, but it’s also necessary because there are just too many manuscripts out there—and most just aren’t very good. I hate to say that because every manuscript is its author’s dream—but it’s true.

You may think that you will learn from rejections because each one will give you a hint on how your writing can be improved. Well, that could happen—after all it happens in books and movies—but it's far more likely that even if a reason is given (which often it is not), it will not be the correct one. They rationalize it as being tactful. You may take the view that you are simply being lied to.

Get used to it. Even if your opus is accepted for publication, you may well will be lied to at every stage in the proceedings. We’ll build you as an author is my favorite—and this from a major publisher who paid me a great deal of money yet didn’t organize one single book signing, book tour, or press interview—ever. 

Incredible! Not in the book business. There is an industry joke that the best description of fiction is a royalty statement—only I’m not sure it’s a joke. Wage theft isn’t confined to manual workers. 

Further, don't assume editors, and others in publishing, know what they are doing. Some are great—a precious few—but mostly they resemble economists in that they are lousy at forecasting. They profess to know what will sell, but mostly their guesses are no better than yours—unless an established Best Selling author, backed by major promotional)investment, is involved. Then, sheer weight of money (normally though not always) guarantees the result.

Given enough resources, marketing works. We are a persuadable, pliable, and predictable public. The phrase “enough resources” is a significant qualifier.   

Worse yet, since publishing went corporate—as in Big Business took over (as a consequence of mergers and acquisitions, there are now only five large publishing houses left—down from 50 a couple of decades ago) the selection is likely to be by committee—and committees tend to play it safe (so you are in trouble if you don't conform to a genre).

Most authors have agent/publisher horror stories to tell, (and some really are horrific) so it's scarcely surprising that—thanks to Amazon—self-publishing has come into its own. It's a truly significant development (which is not going to go away) but it exposes you to the harsh world of the marketplace without anyone to blame if things go wrong. You can't very well blame your publisher for not marketing your book properly (which is normal, by the way) if the publisher is you.

That said, I hold to the view that few writers are natural marketeers—and even fewer have the necessary training and experience—let alone detachment.

Are there exceptions? Many—but they still constitute a minority.

You have real problems if your work is rejected by the marketplace after it has been adequately marketed—by whoever (if that lucky day ever happens). Even then, all is not lost because you can write another book—and the chances are that it will be better. One of the good things about our extraordinarily difficult business is that experience matters; and, if you have talent, commitment, and fortitude, you will get better over time.

As to those who purport to judge your work and decide your fate—to  quote screenwriter William Goldman: “No one knows anything.”

Goldman is a rare exception to that aphorism—as his track record shows—but his generalization holds true.

Carry that thought through and appreciate that the only person who can reject you--in an absolutely fundamental way—is yourself (if you give up).

If you love writing as much as many of us masochists do, you will never quite go that far (though you will come close). And you shouldn't—because, in the end, you may well succeed; and that success will taste all the sweeter.

But what is writing success? It may well not be the Best Seller you hoped for, or the admiration and respect of your peers, but you'll know it when you achieve it. Your inner voice will tell you—and that's all that really matters.

It will feel beyond immensely satisfying. It will feel right. It’s a very special feeling—and it will more than compensate for the years (if not decades) of effort, frustration, failure, dejection, and rejection which will lead up to it.

It feels good to be an author—as good as it gets—and it’s a fine word to have inscribed on your tombstone. It’s short—and it gets right to the point. Beyond that, you’ll be in the very best of company. For all our flaws, we are a convivial bunch, and the work we do—illuminating the human condition—is vital.

The photo is of William Goldman who has written too many fine movies to list—and has a sense of humor to die for. THE PRINCESS BRIDE may be my favorite from his work. He’s an extraordinary talent. I don’t know the man, but feel indebted to him. His writing has enriched my life—and the lives of those I care for.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I'm frequently appalled at the number of important books I haven't read - despite having read two or three a week for more than six decades. In truth, I’m mortified. I feel like a reader who doesn’t read—though that is very far from the truth.

For instance, though I admire his stories enormously—they make great movies—I have never been a great fan of Dickens as a writer. I've rationalized that is because I read him too young (I was about 11 at the time) but I have never been tempted to give his works another try. And I truly hated the book MOBY DICKthough quite enjoyed the movie (which was filmed in Ireland near where I used to live). But MOBY DICK was a school requirement which probably colored my opinion. Compulsion did not do much for my innately cooperative nature (Major hint: that was a joke).

By the way, I met Gregory Peck in the South of France when I was a teenager. Impressive man—and he was extremely kind to me. My recollection is that he was tall—but memory is a fickle thing.

All these years later, I looked him up. The man was 6’3”. I guess that qualifies as tall. What lingers with me was his affability. The man—in the flesh—was a good humored delight. 

Shame on me (we are back to talking about Moby Dick written by Herman Melville)?  Actually, I think I'm quite entitled not to like a particular author, regardless how well regarded he or she is—or was.

In my favor, let me say that once I start a book, it is rare that I don't finish it. My thinking there is based upon experience. I know editors will reject a book if it takes too much time to warm up, but again and again I find myself being agreeably surprised if I have the patience to hang in there. WAR & PEACE was a case in point. Reading that was a life-changing experience as far as I was concerned. I was on a high for days—and, it appears, motivated for decades.

Could writing be this wonderful? Evidently, it could. I lack the ability to describe how truly awesome that discovery felt. I have never thought of it in that context before, but it was an epiphany—a truly life-changing event. And it was all accomplished through the printed word.

Though I frequently read books of the highest quality, I have never pretended to be a particularly highbrow reader, or even a literary reader. When I was young I read for adventure. It was the best way I could find to escape the confines of boarding school without having to make the physical break (which was pointless because even if you were successful and made it home, you'd be sent back—I knew my mother).

Some will argue that I read solely to escape. They would be partially right, but I was realistic enough to appreciate that reading was—at best—temporary escape (followed by painful reality) whereas the adventure was permanent.

Great stories linger to an extent that I can only describe as remarkable.

It didn't take long before I was captured by ideas; and they soon became the main driving force. They still are—whether they come from fiction or non-fiction.  Ideas—essentially a fresh perspective  on some aspect of life—are orgasmic. What an inadequate word! Ideas endure.

But why the need to read Hitler's opus?

Because being a thoroughly unpleasant human being doesn't mean you are not right on some things.

In particular, he seemed to understand how to manipulate his fellow men (and women) better than most; and I've become very interested in the degree to which the American public is being manipulated today—and has been for decades.

Add in the every increasing  availability of extraordinary computer power together with our evolution into a surveillance state (with most surveillance being by corporate interests) and I have to wonder to what extent we are still capable of independent thought. Think about that last sentence carefully. We like to think we are all independent thinkers—and rational into the bargain—but clearly we are not.

So file my interest under: Know your enemy!  Anticipate that, where major powers are concerned, your enemy may well come from within.

But the U.S. isn't Fascist?

Not quite—but it's not a democracy either. More to the point, there are enough similarities to fascism for there to be serious cause for concern regarding the direction we are heading.  The key difference would seem to be that in traditional fascism—though it is based upon an alliance of government and big business—the government, normally headed by a dictator, is the dominant force.

In contrast, where our current system is concerned, our government is dominated by financial elites—and, as far as I know—there is no single dictator. I have added the qualifier because a dictator doesn't have to be known to the public. For centuries, Japan, for instance, was nominally ruled by the Emperor—but the real power lay elsewhere with the shogun.

Right now, we are a plutocracy—a country governed by the rich to the great benefit of the rich. Do we have a secret shogun?  A kuromaku?

Kuromaku literally means "black curtain," but is used to describe a puppet master—the power behind the scenes.

I just don't know. What is clear is that we are no longer a democracy—and, in particular—we are not a representative democracy. Our elected officials don’t represent us. Primarily, they represent those who fund them. 

Fascism, or some broadly similar totalitarian system, hovers. It is not inevitable, but it is the trend. It will probably have a new name which will attempt to camouflage its real nature. Some kind of catastrophe is likely to accelerate it. Recall how after 9/11, fear dominated rational thought—and we virtually rushed to surrender some of our hard-won democratic freedoms (which we still haven't regained).

Think of how many people died, were injured, or had their lives wrecked to gain such freedoms. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

The causative catastrophe may not be war—the traditional rationale for a dictatorship—but some kind of fundamental economic threat which undermines the security of much of the population. It may not be one single event like the 1973 oil embargo (remember that?) but be made up of a number of interwoven strands (political, economic, social, and natural developments) which together threaten to destroy—or have begun to destroy—or have already succeeded in destroying—the American Way of Life.

It’s changing, in case you haven’t noticed.

What might those strands be? Excessive corporate power; financialization; the success of propaganda in influencing, manipulating, and controlling the mass of the population; the equal success of consumerism as an instrument of control; the militarization of the police; the increasing reach and power of the security services; the erosion of rights and freedoms; a widespread lack of faith in government and in institutions generally; excessive faith in the military; income inequality; the breakdown of the Social Contract; the failure of trust; eroding earning power; increasing economic insecurity; failure to provide employment; automation; the decline of the Middle Class; and Climate Change.

But these are all happening right now? Aren't they?

Yes—that is rather my point—though most people are acting as if it's business as usual. It isn’t. There are forces afoot which are going to change much of what we regard as familiar and stable.

But how does Hitler come into all this?

Hitler's genius was in anticipating and harnessing such forces; and then in weaving all the strands together to get himself elected. Forgive the pun, but the man knew how to execute.

But we'd never elect a Hitler. Would we?

I doubt we’d know in advance. I doubt the Germans knew what they were getting—and by the time they found out, it was too late. But it’s worth remembering that the man didn’t seize power. He was given it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


There are few people I admire more than those who have the strength of character (and luck) to sustain a long marriage. To do that—and remain faithful—deserves even more praise. It is just plain admirable.

I fear I belong to the school of: “So many, and so little time (though I have reformed, naturellement).” Given my somewhat Bohemian  upbringing, that was probably inevitable, but I’m not proud of it—and I really do regard fidelity as the better way. That said, I am completely unfazed if I learn someone is having an affair. As far as I am concerned, it is their business. Besides, I’m a European (and partially of French ancestry at that). As for the Irish side of me, don’t be fooled by this image of Catholic Ireland: the Irish invented sex and Irish women are surprisingly good at it. I have no experience of the men.

France's First Lady Valerie Treirweiler

This lady to the right, by the way, is the President’s wife, Valerie. Yes, there should be an acute accent over the middle ‘e.’

She so reminds me of a woman I once knew, it’s uncanny.

The French seem to doubt their president’s effectiveness in government, but it is hard to deny that he has the eye for a good-looking woman. I feel tempted to write “that he seems caught between a rock and a hard place”—but I’ll show restraint. Still, Valerie Hollande doesn’t look like the kind of woman you’d want to cross. The word “formidable” comes to mind.

The following is from the Daily Telegraph of Jan 20 2014.

A majority of French men and a third of French women cheat on their partners, a new poll, has found indicating that infidelity is on the rise in France among both sexes.

In figures that could help explain why so many French are unfazed by the dalliances of their president, François Hollande, the Ifop study found that some 55 per cent of French men and 32 per cent of French women admit to cheating on their other halves.

Infidelity has been on the rise since the 1970s, when only around 19 per cent admitted to cheating, according to the study that was carried out for Gleeden, the extramarital dating website.

More than one in three French said they were prepared to cheat on their partners as long as they were sure they would not find out.

François Kraus of Ifop said: "One of the study's key findings is the enduring difference in perception of infidelity among men and women, with the latter much less accepting of dalliances than men." Two out of three French women consider a kiss is a form of cheating, while 57 per cent see sexting as being unfaithful.

The study also found that Left-wing French are more likely to cheat on their partners than those who identify themselves as on the Right.

Despite their apparent difficulty in practicing what they preach, most French people, 68 per cent, believe it is possible to remain faithful to one person for life.

It transpires they are also forgiving, as 63 per cent of French believe they can love someone even if he or she has cheated.

That high score tallies with a Pew Research Center study from 2013, which found that the French were the most forgiving of the 39 countries surveyed.

I have to confess that I admire tolerance nearly as much as fidelity.

Love is wonderful, and terrible, and nearly always painful at some time or other. Relationships, all too often, do not end well—because virtually, by definition, they can’t. It’s an eternal truth—you can’t end love without pain; and ending an affair does not necessarily mean the end of love no matter who does the leaving. Someone always gets hurt. That being so, I feel great sympathy for all concerned. I also believe that despite its hazards, it is far, far, better to love—and to have been loved—than the alternative (whatever be the outcome).

I feel exceedingly fortunate when I think of the women I have loved—though my first great love is dead. My second had the good sense not to marry a writer, and is alive and well in the UK. I love her to this day. And I think I’ll stop there. 

To quote the title of an old William Holden (marvelous man) movie: LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING—and nearly as enthralling as writing.

Writing is even harder.

Will I ever fall in love again? At my age it seems unlikely—but one never knows. I still find women both intriguing and attractive, regardless of age. And they are a lot of fun—and they seem to have more sense that we males (which isn’t hard).

And are a great deal of trouble—which is half their attraction.

Bless them all!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


For all the greed, selfishness, and other shabby—to the point of criminal—behavior that we witness in this Great Nation all too regularly, all kinds of good things seem to going on underneath the surface; which I both hope, and expect, will lead to a pleasanter and more effective form of capitalism. 

When? Ah! That is the question. Sooner than many would think, I suspect.

Capitalism—like ice-cream—comes in many flavors. Some work a great deal better than others. We haven’t really grasped that yet. We have been conditioned to think in a binary way—you are either for or against. The reality is more nuanced. Capitalism—the right form of it—can work extremely well.

I say "pleasanter and more effective" because our existing American Business Model clearly isn't delivering for most of us, and it certainly can't be described as "pleasant."

Essentially, risk is being transferred to the workforce, and rewards to a financial elite, at a rate, and on a scale, that is alarming. Boeing's recent success at forcing its machinists union to give up the defined pension is just one example of the corporate thuggery that is becoming commonplace—and the callous neglect of the long-term unemployed is another. On top of that, lending to Small Business is entirely inadequate and the state of our crumbling infrastructure is a disgrace.  Meanwhile, Big Business is accumulating record profits—yet paying declining amounts of corporate tax in percentage terms. It’s a very clear picture.


Overall, we really do have a One Percent oriented economy—though though you can make the case that the upper two quintiles--40 percent in total—do well enough.

Unfortunately, that still leaves 60 percent of the population—the majority it is worth emphasizing—who are either struggling or poor. And by the way, most incomes are in decline (in the richest country in the world).

An intolerable situation, you may think—and you would be right.

But before you sink into terminal depression, reflect on the extraordinary success of Kickstarter which is really a form of patronage. You don't invest in projects—you donate money to such ideas as strike your fancy (in exchange for a token of minimal value) but the end result is that start-ups and other small companies get the capital they need; and all kinds of innovations are backed which otherwise might not see the light of day.

It will never work, I hear you think. People want to get a return on their money. They don't want to give it away.

The evidence is that sometimes they do. It feels good to help—and it doesn't hurt that it feels like the right thing to do. Decency is its own imperative. Also, the average donation is relatively small (something like $25 to $100) so it is easy—relatively speaking—to  give with good cheer. It's the volume from a lot of people—the 'crowd' in crowdfunding—that makes the difference.

Let me throw some Kickstarter figures at you:

  • Three million people donated to Kickstarter in 2013
  • 19,911 projects were funded (up from 18,109 in 2012)
  • Overall Kickstarter raised $480 million from 214 countries and 7 continents

Is that awesome or what!

It is sobering to view such activities in context. Given that JP Morgan Chase has incurred over $30 billion in fines and legal costs alone since the end of the Great Recession, you might be tempted to sink into depression again—but oak trees have small beginnings.

I don't see Kickstarter replacing conventional investment—or anywhere close. I do see it as an extremely promising beginning of a more enlightened approach towards the funding of Small Business, and particularly creative enterprises.

Kickstarter may be the best known, but it is far from the only site of its kind. Google 'crowdfunding' and you'll see what I mean.

Crowdfunding can be a slightly confusing word. Some of the sites are donation based just like Kickstarter. Others allow full investments but more conditions conditions apply.

You'll soon get the hang of it.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Print reading remains most popular but e-reading is on the rise

Pew Research is an impressive organization which seems to be concerned with a quite mind-boggling variety of aspects of the American Way of Life. If Pew was a person, he or she could well be described as a polymath.

Actually, under U.S. law, Pew Research almost certainly is categorized as a person (something that needs to be changed when the Constitution is next re-written).

New Year Resolution: Find out more about this outfit.

Here is what Pew Research has to say about U.S. book reading.

The percentage of adults who read an e-book in the past year has risen to 28%, up from 23% at the end of 2012. At the same time, about seven in ten Americans reported reading a book in print, up four percentage points after a slight dip in 2012, and 14% of adults listened to an audiobook.

Though e-books are rising in popularity, print remains the foundation of Americans’ reading habits. Most people who read e-books also read print books, and just 4% of readers are “e-book only.” Audiobook listeners have the most diverse reading habits overall, while fewer print readers consume books in other formats.

Overall, 76% of adults read a book in some format over the previous 12 months. The typical American adult read or listened to 5 books in the past year, and the average for all adults was 12 books.1 Neither the mean nor median number of books read has changed significantly over the past few years.

More also own dedicated e-reading devices

The January 2014 survey, conducted just after the 2013 holiday gift-giving season, produced evidence that e-book reading devices are spreading through the population. Some 42% of adults now own tablet computers, up from 34% in September. And the number of adults who own an e-book reading device like a Kindle or Nook reader jumped from 24% in September to 32% after the holidays.

Overall, 50% of Americans now have a dedicated handheld device–either a tablet computer like an iPad, or an e-reader such as a Kindle or Nook–for reading e-content. That figure has grown from 43% of adults who had either of those devices in September.

Half of Americans own a tablet or e-reader

As tablet ownership grows, more use them for e-books


1 In other words, the mean (average) number of books read or listened to in the past year was 12 and the median (midpoint) number was 5 (meaning that half of adults read more than 5 books and half read fewer.) This mean can be skewed by a relatively small number of very avid readers, which is why the median is a better measure of what the “typical” American’s reading habits look like.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Dr. Mercola of is something of a maverick and a minimalist when it comes to conventional medicine.

He is highly skeptical of Big Pharma, is critical of many medications and procedures, attaches great importance to diet, regards exercise and sound sleep as fundamental to good health, is fanatical about Vitamin D, and is implacably opposed to genetically modified foodstuffs; and, in fact, to industrial food in general. As to Big Ag’s happy habit of rearing cattle, pigs and poultry intensively—and feeding them antibiotics to ward off disease (thus promoting the truly terrifying—and trending—prospect of widespread antibiotic resistance) such practices make him froth at the mouth (metaphorically speaking).

Frankly, I doubt that Dr. Mercola froths. He appears to be a decidedly controlled individual, and in formidably good health.

Sometimes I wish the man would show a flaw.

I don’t know whether he is right on every issue, but he never seems to make a claim without plenty of supporting data—and I regard his general approach approach to health as sound.

We writers are notoriously neglectful of our health, frequently drink too much, and—generally speaking—live a sedentary lifestyle, but I pay great attention to his newsletters and (amazingly enough) actually modify my behavior on occasions. My rationale is simple. You have to be in reasonably good health to focus on writing, and at my age it makes sense to take a few precautions. Beyond that, I don’t particularly want to be dependent on medications—though doubtless I’ll have to compromise at some time or other. I have the notion that meds dull the mind, and since my mind is what enables me to write (I think—see below), I like to keep it (together with its kissing cousin, my subconscious) as keen as possible.

I tend to view my mind and my subconscious as two separate individuals—so to speak—with my mind getting the glory and my subconscious doing most of the work. ‘Twas ever thus!

Gut FloraMercola has recently been obsessing about intestinal bacteria.

‘Obsessing’ has somewhat pejorative connotations’ but I’m more talking style than substance. The man does seem to obsess, but normally in a worthy cause.

I like to think of myself as being me—a relatively self-contained individual—but, according to him, I’m a housing unit for 100 trillion bacteria (who may be entitled to co-author status given how much they do). It’s all a bit disconcerting—but interesting. 

Anyway, Mercola is more than capable of expressing his views himself. Let me quote briefly from his Jan 17 newsletter.

  • Your intestinal bacteria are part of your immune system, and researchers are discovering that microbes play instrumental roles in countless areas of your health, including your weight
  • Researchers have discovered a difference in gut bacteria between the overweight and those of normal weight. A strain of beneficial bacteria called Lactobacillus rhamnosus also appears helpful for weight loss in women
  • Research suggests there’s a positive-feedback loop between the foods you crave and the composition of the microbiota in your gut that depend on those nutrients for their survival
  • Bacterial imbalance in your gut can be worsened by processed and pasteurized foods. Sugar also promotes the growth of disease-causing yeasts and fungi in your gut
  • A gut-healthy diet is one that is rich in whole, unprocessed, unsweetened foods, along with traditionally fermented or cultured foods

So now you know. It’s also worth putting Mercola’s opinions in context. The facts are that though we spend nearly twice as much on healthcare as other developed nations, generally speaking Americans are not in good health (something of an understatement). Roughly half the adult population suffers from a chronic condition, obesity is rife, and we die two years or more before the competition. That totality is sobering.

Maybe we need to re-think our approach. Read the man and make up your own mind.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Despite an intelligence and surveillance budget greater than the GDP of most countries in the world—something in the order of $70-100 billion—we remain remarkably ignorant of how other nations manage their affairs on both a macro and a micro basis.

This extraordinary paradox exists despite the fact (based upon evidence rather than opinion) that many countries manage their affairs—in whole or in part—a great deal better than we do.

This is particularly relevant where economies are concerned. Here we have a plethora of real life multiyear case histories which indicate both what works and what doesn’t work—and which we could learn a great more from than from our (decidedly inadequate) computer models.

Many of the answers we seek—or should be seeking--are out there and proven.

Bluntly, there is rarely a substitute for practical experience—and though there are certainly great cultural differences, human nature is universal. In short, what works in Sweden or Germany (for instance) probably could work here—if we gave it a chance.

The U.S. powers-that-be-seem fairly determined to foster intellectual isolationism together which, together with the notion of American exceptionalism, means that this nation suffers from an advanced version of NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome: If it isn’t American, it’s second rate and we shouldn’t even try it.

Oh really! Well, it would be nice to have a choice—and to make such choices we need to know what is going on in other countries in enough detail to make evidence-based decisions.

The following is an extract from an article by Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service.

Major Parts of the World Ignored by US TV News in 2013

Syria and celebrities dominated foreign coverage by ABC, NBC, and CBS – whose combined evening news broadcasts are the single most important media source of information about national and international events for most Americans. Vast portions of the globe went almost entirely ignored, according to the latest annual review by the authoritative Tyndall Report.

Latin America, most of Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia apart from Afghanistan, and virtually all of East Asia – despite growing tensions between China and Washington’s closest regional ally, Japan – were virtually absent from weeknight news programmes of ABC, NBC, and CBS last year, according to the report, which has tracked the three networks’ evening news coverage continuously since 1988.

Surveys by the Pew Research Centre for the People & the Press, among other polling and research groups, show that about two-thirds of the general public cite television as their main source for national and international news, more than twice the number of people who rely on newspapers, and about one-third more than the growing number of individuals whose primary source is the internet.

An average of about 21 million U.S. residents watch the network news on any given evening. While the cable news channels – CNN, FoxNews, and MSNBC – often get more public attention, their audience is actually many times smaller, according to media-watchers.

“In 2012, more than four times as many people watched the three network newscasts than watched the highest-rated show on the three cable channels during prime time,” Emily Guskin, a research analyst for the Pew Research Centre’s Journalism Project, told IPS.

This adds up to a fundamental indictment of the networks—and begs the question: Why does this situation exist? It’s certainly not an accident. That means it is deliberate. That fact has truly frightening implications.


Friday, January 17, 2014


Tests will hopefully determine by the end of February whether the Black Knight Transformer could be implented into the U.S. military in the futureThere is nothing new about mines—which is what we used to call IEDs before replacing that perfectly adequate one syllable word with Improvised Explosive Device. They were first used in the thirteenth century by the Chinese when fighting the Mongols. 

In more recent times, IEDs have become just about the insurgent’s favorite weapon. In fact, I encountered them first-hand in Northern Ireland in the Seventies where the culvert mine became so popular that some British Army outposts had to be supplied by helicopter—a truly remarkable sight in what was supposed to be an advanced Western democracy. Driving along a road that may well blow you to pieces is an interesting experience. Short of a physical search on foot, culvert bombs placed under paved roads are quick to place and virtually undetectable.

Most culverts, by the way, are there for drainage, though some are used for sewage, gas or power. Yes, they can be blocked—which leads to other problems—but insurgents can, and do, unblock them, insert IED’s, and then re-block them (which makes the concealed IED extremely hard to detect).

Despite this, the U.S. Army has remained remarkably road bound—and fundamentally still is—in the face of overwhelming evidence that a change in that doctrine is long overdue. And, by the way, when I say “road-bound” I mean just that, even though maneuvering off-road is entirely practicable in all weathers and over most terrain if your vehicle is tracked (a subject I’ll write about some other time).

True, IEDs can still be used off-road, but many more are needed if a kill is to be likely—which increases the likelihood of the IED layers being detected. Better still, if you drive cross-country, you gain the crucial advantage of being unpredictable—which makes you much harder to hit and vastly more dangerous.

An additional tactic is to get off the ground altogether--which is where Advanced Tactics’s  Black Knight Transformer (see photo) comes in. Equipped with eight fold-away rotors, it can be driven on the ground like a truck—or fly like a helicopter—and be remotely controlled.

From that excellent site

When the AT Black Knight Transformer is operational, it will be a streamlined aircraft with turbo diesel engines capable of handling 1,000 lb (453 kg) or five passengers with a 250 nautical mile (463 km) range at 130 knots (241 km/h). On the ground, it will be able to haul 1,600 lb (726 kg) or eight passengers and manage 70 mph (over 110 km/h).

But aren’t there such things as aerial mines?

Yes, there are—but they are much harder to make, expensive, and not yet widely available. Beyond that, it is worthwhile remembering that reassuring combat aviator’s aphorism? “Big sky. Little bullet.”  

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Bexar Bibliotech bookless library

I guess this had to happen, but I felt quite queasy when I read the headline.

I'm all in favor of e-books, but I don't want them to take over the world.

I feel much the same way about Google. Or Amazon. Or the Irish.

Moderation in all things.

I will confess: We Irish are not renowned for our moderation.

But the sentence "Bexar County, Texas has opened a new library that has no books inside," made me feel quite ill—even though I think such developments are both desirable and inevitable. But books—real printed books, the kind that are heavy to lug around, and near impossible to dust—are sacred to me. I’ve built my life around them (with the help of a couple of other pleasant ways of passing the time).   

I feel like paraphrasing Rudyard Kipling’s memorable 1922 line: “A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke,” into something like: “A woman is only a woman, but a good book is… However, my life is hazardous enough already—and I hold (most) women in high regard. In fact, I think they/you have the edge on us males. But even though it is sexist and dated, I love the rhythm of the line—and of course The Man Who Would Be King.jpgKipling was only joking (I think).

I’m a great Kipling fan. My much loved grandmother read me THE JUNGLE BOOK, and other stories, before I learned to read, and then I worked through most of his other works over time.

He was a consummate story-teller  and his works translated well into movies such as KIM, GUNGA DIN and THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (one of my favorite films with a dream cast directed by John Huston).

Here is a little more detail from :

Instead the library is outfitted with iPad stations and iMacs loaded with digital books available to check out, making it the first digital library in the country.

The library is called the BiblioTech. Patrons can check out eBooks, audiobooks, and software training databases, as well as eReaders. The library also hosts computer classes and patrons can use laptops, tablets, and desktops at the branch.

The Associated Press points out that the library looks like an Apple Store but is located in a part of town which wouldn’t appeal to the tech company. “BiblioTech is on the city’s economically depressed South Side and shares an old strip mall with a Bexar County government building,” explains the AP.


There is a short but marvelous selection of quotes on writing on a decidedly original blog put together by GEMMA GATEN. She is a freelance writer who works for UK Best Essays. I have a feeling we’ll we hearing more about her—and from her.

She wrote a guest blog for featuring Einstein qu0tes which got my attention. Here are a couple of extracts.

“Paper is to write things down that we need to remember. Our brains are used to think.”

The genius already said it: use the tools (pen and paper) to write down your notes, ideas, phrases, etc. Then your brain can get back to creating.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning… Never lose a holy curiosity.”

Most intellectuals are curious people. Curiosity leads to discovery. Just look at the curious character of Einstein. If he didn’t ask questions and actively search for answers there would be no theory of general relativity. Writers should always be curious. Without curiosity, you might not recognize a great idea that’s standing right in front of you.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Einstein believed that an active imagination was the key to solving any problem. Writers are most fueled by the writing process when their imaginations are fully engaged. The reason why imagination is more important than knowledge is because it’s limitless. It can move you beyond observed reality and allows you to create new worlds. Use your imagination to create brilliant written works. Use your imagination to engage people. Use your imagination to become a better writer.

You know there is more to the above quote and comment than you might think. But I need to go for a walk so I’ll explore that theme on another occasion.

Let me conclude with a Mark Twain quote that says most of what you need to know about the writing life:

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” ― Mark Twain

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


I use Microsoft's Windows Live Writer to write my blogs in—and like it greatly.

It does everything I need, I can insert graphics as required, and it posts easily. However, it has one disconcerting limitation: It limits the number of Draft Titles you can read—at any one time—to 10.

That is normally more than enough. Recently, I was hit with a stronger than usual burst of writing energy and discovered it wasn't. I wrote 12 blogs ahead—and could only find 10. Two were missing!

AAAAAGH! Or some such.

Losing work upsets me more than most things. As I have written elsewhere, ideas are fragile things—and elusive into the bargain. To have them wander off is unsettling. They might be perfectly safe, but if you can't keep tabs on them, you have every reason to be concerned. They might be holed up in a hotel room somewhere. They are not strong on fidelity.

I'm not quite sure why Microsoft impose such limitations on Live Writer, but then I'm far from sure why they do many things. Could it be that they are big and arrogant, and think they know better?

In truth, Windows apart, they are no longer the worst. Mind you, the Windows evolution was so awful, it almost certainly constitutes a Crime Against Humanity.

Be that as it may, I vaguely remembered that even if you couldn't read the title of a draft, that didn't mean it wasn't there. It almost certainly was if you had saved it—and, of course I had saved it! Hadn’t I? 

But how could I make it appear? I knew it could be done, but I had forgotten. I tend to forget things to do with systems and procedures.

Eventually, it occurred to me that if I posted one of the 10 drafts, one of the missing drafts might reveal itself—and so it proved. Break out the champagne and fireworks. Haul in the dancing girls (and boys if you are so inclined).

Drama over until the next time.

Use Case 6I'm now doing my initial drafts in Evernote and pasting them across to Windows Live Writer for a final polish. Will that work? Well, it should certainly allow me to stockpile any quantity of blogs I want—and find them—but will there be formatting issues?

I'll let you know.

I live in hopes Evernote will expand the word and graphic handling side of their software. Given a few changes, I could near live in it— it’s a truly invaluable piece of work.

Microsoft might buy the company. If it does, I shall run screaming into the darkness.