Friday, February 28, 2014


The chief enemy of creativity is good sense.

Pablo Picasso

When we talk about job creation—not that we do nearly as much as should—I’m constantly struck by our general neglect of creativity in terms of enhancing the human condition.

Yes, I know it’s important to do practical things—like repairing our aging sewerage systems or doing something about our flaky power grid—but I think we might be absolutely amazed if we invested serious money into the creative arts—without a precise objective in mind except to bring more beauty into our lives.

The aesthetic is—in my opinion—much more important than we generally acknowledge. It uplifts the quality of lives in so many ways and has a profound effect on how we look at life. It enhances our moods and puts a spring into our steps. It makes us want to sing in the rain—which is very useful if you live in Seattle (as I do).

Instead, we let our cities deteriorate, our industries pollute, and focus virtually entirely on the practical and what we can count, measure, and monetize. It’s as if we are in the grip of some sort of greed pandemic. And it is certainly madness because we humans have never been logical, sensible, or practical—though we pretend otherwise. Instead we are a mass of emotions, delusions, insecurities, fears and needs—all mixed with with sexual desires of just about every shade, flavor, and peculiarity.

I wish we’d face up to the fact that to be normal is to be weird—and to be normal in the sense that we pretend is impossible. But what I do know is that virtually all of us respond positively to beauty. We all become better people if the aesthetic is innate to our lives.

Images are from a Shutterstock mailer. Top is from  agsandrew’s portfolio  and the bottom is by LolaTsvetaeva.

They stopped me in my tracks.


Only those who attempt the absurd, will achieve the impossible.

M.C. Escher

I found this on the fridge door of a friend I helped to look after as she was dying of cancer. She lived up to it.


There are some truly excellent companies in the helicopter business—Boeing, Sikorski, Bell, Airbus Helicopters (Eurocopter renamed) and Augusta Westland being examples. Yet a Swiss startup called MARENCO is attracting a great deal of attention with its SKYe SH09. In fact, it has already attracted 51 orders even though it hasn’t flown yet.

Why is it making such an impact? Essentially, it is an example of refining a product in such a way that although nothing, in itself, seems drastically new—yet the totality is exceptional. The Swiss do this kind of thing rather well; and, what is more—even though they are a high wage economy—the sticker price of $3.25 million is highly competitive.

This is a perfect example of how high-wage Northern Europe companies can—and do—out-export us. Maybe instead of squeezing the wages of American workers down—U.S. management should try working with them. It’s called ‘codetermination’—and it works. That is another word for working cooperatively. Union bashing is management by oppression and people work best when they buy into something. As Winston Churchill so rightly remarked: “Jaw, jaw, jaw is better than war, war, war.”

Commonsense, one might think.

  • 2.5 metric ton class
  • Carbon fiber body
  • Exceptional visibility
  • Exceptional hot and high performance
  • Shrouded tail rotor
  • Low noise signature
  • Seats 5-8
  • Two sliding side doors and clamshell door at rear.
  • Fast cruise speed of 270 km/h (145 knots)
  • Excellent range of over 800 (430 nautical miles)

Deliveries are expected to begin in 2017.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


 “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas A. Edison.

Trust me—I can identify with this.


I subscribe to quite a number of blogs in order to try and have some understanding of the book market. In truth, I’m  not sure anyone fully appreciates what is going on—the pace of change is so frenetic—but you could make a good case that the people making the most money are the mass of consultants who are advising us creative types how to sell our books. A writer to day is expected to be author, blogger, social media expert, and all round marketeer—and to build his or her platform before agents and traditional publishers take their cut. And it doesn’t hurt if you can do web design as well— and shoot the shirt buttons off an editor at 100 paces.

There was a time when I used to shoot shirt buttons off a monkey—not a real one (real monkeys don’t wear shirts) though not at that distance. But that is another story.

What do agents and traditional publishers do? Well, lunch can be extraordinarily time-consuming—but to be fair, they recognize and bring on talent. Or so they say... Some of us are not quite so sure.

Be that as it may, today I read a rather nice story on BookMarketingBuzzBlog. It was written by guest blogger, SAM MOFFIE, and says a great deal about traditional book publishing.

There is so much to love and so much to hate about the world of book publishing, writing, and the world of books.  In reality, just growing thick skin and shrugging off the rejection letters and bad reviews is all there is to hate about the world of books. You can't sit there and bemoan not becoming instantly rich and famous after you have banged out a novel or two or three. It just doesn't happen that way... never did. Oh, of course there is always the exception to the rule, but that happens anytime, anyplace, anywhere. In our instant good/bad news culture we always hear about it. So, don't obsess that IT hasn't happened to you, because it just might if:

You don't give up. You work at your craft. You listen to those who offer constructive critiques. You don't waste your hard earned money on frivolous investments in contests, promotions, and reviews that make YOU ante up AND make YOU do all the work.

A few years ago, I took the first chapter to one of all-time favorite novels Vonneguts Breakfast of Champions.  I re titled it The Perfect Martini  and sent it out to a zillion top literary agents and publishing houses. I didn't change one letter from Kurt's original first chapter. All but one rejected it. The one that caught it was a young literary agent who had just read the novel a few months ago and busted me. I wrote a piece about this that was widely circulated by The Onion on-line edition. I called it God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut.

Why am I telling you this? Because Kurt's son Mark (an award winning author and now doctor) himself read the story and contacted me and told me that his father once worked up a nice buzz with fellow author Jerzy Kosinski (The Painted Bird). Kosinski was as buzzed as Kurt and they did the same thing that I had done with Kurt's book to one of Jerzy's novels and that novel was only a few years old! Naturally every publisher house turned it down. I used this tid-bit in my fourth novel The Book of Eli.

In other words (pun intended), it takes a lot -- I mean A LOT to make it in this business. That's the beauty and the beast of it. If it was easy, everyone who has a novel in their desk would be doing what we do.

And they are not.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


DARPA have rejigged the Transformer flying jeep program to focus on an unmanned vertical takeoff and landing delivery system. In the fine tradition of never using a straightforward name when an acronym will do, the new name is the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System—ARES.

The first flight is planned for mid 2015. Piasecki are building the actual UAV and Lockheed are supplying the software.

The aircraft will will have a top speed of 200 kts, will cruise in the 130-150 kt range and will have a gross weight of 7,500 lbs—half of which can be payload.

The Marines are already using an unmanned Lockheed/Kaman K-Max unmanned helicopter for forward operating base resupply with success.

The ARES will be faster and more compact. With its wings unfolded, it will have a span of 42 feet. The ducts are 8.5 foot in diameter enclosing 7.5 foot fans.

I love this kind of stuff and once worked for Piasecki on a DARPA project involving a MAR—a Mission Adaptable Rotor.

Piasecki are an interesting company who have pioneered a significant number of rotary aircraft developments. The concept behind the Chinook CH-47 came from Frank Piasecki. He also did a great deal of work on ducted fans.

We thriller writers get around.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


The first Adam Smith book I read was THE MONEY GAME. It was published in 1968 and was one of the most informative and funny books I have ever read.

It still is. Jerry Goodman was in a league of his own. Read him if you can. His incite is as timely as ever—and you will be mightily entertained. He was a marvelous writer—and, I suspect, a delightful human being.

The following is from an affectionate tribute by Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal.

Warren Buffett considers Jerry Goodman the second-best writer ever to explain how the investment business works, after the brilliant Fred Schwed, whose Where Are the Customers’ Yachts? (originally published in 1940) remains the finest – and funniest – book on Wall Street ever written.

“Schwed was the best ever,” Buffett told me in a telephone interview this past week. “But Jerry, especially in ‘The Money Game,’ was incredibly insightful, and he knew how to make the prose sing as well.

“He knew how to put his finger on things that nobody had identified before. Jerry stuck to the facts, but he made them a helluva lot more interesting. He was a great writer.”

In The Money Game, the best-selling book he published in 1968, Goodman exposed the frenzied trading, epidemic rumor-mongering and bizarrely neurotic behavior that drove many professional money managers throughout what came to be called the “go-go” years of the bull market of the late 1960s.

With a panache no financial writer ever since could hope to match, he cited the mumbo-jumbo of Freudian psychologists, quoted philosophers and poets in untransliterated ancient Greek, and ridiculed Wall Street analysts trying to make sense of momentum stocks with mock names like Murgatroyd Bonbon and Digital Datawhack.

How good a writer was Jerry Goodman? You be the judge:

A stock is, for all practical purposes, a piece of paper that sits in a bank vault. Most likely you will never see it. It may or may not have an Intrinsic Value; what it is worth on any given day depends on the confluence of buyers and sellers that day. The most important thing to realize is simplistic: The stock doesn’t know you own it. All those marvelous things, or those terrible things, that you feel about a stock, or a list of stocks, or an amount of money represented by a list of stocks, all of these things are unreciprocated by the stock or the group of stocks. You can be in love if you want to, but that piece of paper doesn’t love you, and unreciprocated love can turn into masochism, narcissism, or, even worse, market losses and unreciprocated hate.

- The Money Game (1968 edition, p. 81)

If you are not automatically applying a mechanical formula, then you are operating in this area of intuition, and if you are going to operate with intuition – or judgment – then it follows that the first thing you have to know is yourself. You are — face it — a bunch of emotions, prejudices, and twitches, and this is all very well as long as you know it…. A series of market decisions does add up, believe it or not, to a kind of personality portrait. It is, in one small way, a method of finding out who you are, but it can be very expensive. That is one of the cryptograms which are my own, and this is the first Irregular Rule: If you don’t know who you are, this is an expensive place to find out.

- The Money Game (1968 edition, p. 26)

Monday, February 24, 2014


‘Let the market provide,’ is the predictable answer—and that works up to a point. Then you run into the depressing fact that if everything is monetized, there is a disconcerting tendency to get the lowest common denominator. Commercial TV? Commercial radio? Much of our media? Fast food? All too many movies?
Somehow, commercialization has a tendency to crush content—how much alliteration can you take?—conclusively, completely, and consequentially. 

I’m tempted to add ‘crassly.’

Why should this be? Is it capitalism per se—or the American Business Model? I don’t have a quick answer to that.

And then Amtrak appears and exhibits the right stuff. Amtrak? Say it isn’t so—but it is. It offers a de-facto Writer’s Residency on trains. Let me quote from the invaluable This is from a short piece by Diana Dilworth (a must-read lady).

Writers residencies just got mobile. Amtrak is now offering free rides to writers on long rides so that they can get some writing done.

The idea came from a Twitter. Inspired by an interview that discussed writing on trains, writers Zach Seward and Jessica Gross tweeted their desires for a writers in residency program on Amtrak. Amtrak responded to the tweet and offered Gross the chance to test drive the idea. She took a ride from New York to Chicago and back. The Wire has the story:

She rode the rails from NYC to Chicago to NYC again, writing the whole time. No one else on the train knew about her residency, Gross said, or if they did, they “definitely didn’t act like it.” Now, perhaps the most important point: The residency was free. According to Gross, all Amtrak asked was that she send out a few tweets while she was traveling, and do an interview for the company’s blog at the end of her trip.

Long may it last. But, you know, we’re really just tinkering at the edges with this kind of stuff. Creativity is a powerhouse of good things—and it deserves much wider support.

But here is the thing about the creative community: Most of us are out of work—or otherwise penniless—for most of the time. So does that bring out the best in us?

Here, I am much influenced by reports that over 90 percent of actors are out of work at any one time. I have no idea of the figures relating to writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, or poets—but I doubt they are significantly different.

And yet, at the end of a long hard day—often doing something we would prefer not to have to do—we crave the release that comes from TV, or a good book, or something similar. In short, in so many ways, we live for the stimulus of the creative arts.

Worth thinking about?

I’m scarcely impartial—but I think so.




This the richest country in the world—yet we seem to be content to leave nearly 50 million fellow Americans live in poverty. That’s not just morally indefensible. It’s financially dumb. Eliminating poverty is cheaper than keeping it.

According to research, a great many of us seem to think that the poor have only themselves to blame. That’s a good excuse for largely ignoring poverty—but it has scant factual basis. It’s essentially an ideological viewpoint—and, as a consequence, uninformed.

I am no fan of ideologies—to put it mildly. Blind belief is responsible for more human misery than just about anything else. Life does require a moral code—but even it needs to be applied with toleration and nuance. Politically, I’m most interested in what works—and in defining the issues. If you ask the right questions, you can normally find answers.

Most poverty is a consequence of circumstances—including the deliberate policies of corporations like Wal-Mart—and our lack of social concern. Bear in mind that poverty—unless eliminated—is a permanent social and financial cost. It is a drain on our resources year in, year out—and has a tendency to increase. It represents pure, undiluted waste in terms of both human potential and financial cost.

What is the financial cost? A report by the Center for American Progress back in 2007 estimates the cost of childhood poverty alone at roughly $500 billion a year. Today the figure would be considerably higher. Add in adult poverty and the total must be somewhere between $1 and 3 trillion (I’ll refine that figure when I have more time).

We also seem to miss that fact that eliminating poverty is actually cheaper than enduring it.

That last sentence is worth re-reading.

But how can that be?

  • Treating the symptoms of poverty—everything from mental illness to medical conditions to homelessness to crime to insurance costs, police, legal system, and the prison system is hugely expensive.
  • We vastly increase the productivity of such people—and thus their earnings which, in turn, means a more affluent, innovative, and competitive economy. It is also safer.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


"Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."

John Kenneth Galbraith

One of my favorite authors, by the way—with a true dry wit. Also, he was a master of clarity.

It was e-mail that convinced me to keep writing regardless of publisher, personal—and other—difficulties. I had received very little fan mail until I put my e-mail address in the paperback edition of my third book—and then suddenly, I started to receive fan e-mail in volume. It’s a truly incredible thing to be able to be in touch with your readers directly—and when I stopped counting, I had received over 7,000 fan e-mails (not including follow-ups).

For that reason, I determined to answer every reader e-mail personally. This took a vast amount of time—but it seemed important to me. Will I do so in the future? I haven’t decided that yet. These days—with blogging and social media needing attention—there is so much more to do that it may not be possible. And book writing must come first. But, we’ll see. I’m thinking of replying using audio—which will be faster—and I hate the thought of not interacting with my readers. It’s a very special relationship. 

Back in mid 2010, I made a conscious decision to reorganize how I work. That may seem an odd thing to do in one’s mid-sixties—you’d think I would have worked out a routine a couple of decades earlier (or even sooner). Well, of course I had—but technology had advanced so much that I was increasingly convinced I could do much better.

In the short-term, my reorganization was something of a nightmare because I spent so much time evaluating software, that my writing productivity suffered severely. Nonetheless, eventually I had a series of breakthroughs—and now I’m vastly more productive despite some handicaps. Probably the most severe is that I suffer from a form of dyslexia. Still, that’s why workarounds were invented.

E-mail still remains a problem—albeit a much diminished one. As a consequence I was extremely interested in a Business Week interview on the subject with Asana’s Justin Rosenstein. The following is an extract.

Where does e-mail rank in terms of problems of the modern workplace?
I would say that the use of e-mail and the problems surrounding e-mail are the No. 1 problem. McKinsey found that 30 percent of people’s time is spent literally just on e-mail and reading and writing e-mail. Another 20 percent of people’s time is spent on trying to get pieces of information that their co-workers already know. E-mail becomes this completely unmanaged to-do list that someone else created for you.

Silicon Valley keeps trying to fix e-mail, and nothing has caught on yet. Why?
The fact that you see all these different efforts is a real testament to how hungry everyone is for the thing that’s after e-mail. But when people try to make efforts at improving it, they often end up just adding one layer on top of e-mail. A lot of times these efforts are really just lipstick on a pig.

What’s Asana?
Asana kind of provides a team brain. If you’re leading a team, there’s a set of basic questions that you just want answers to all the time: What are all the steps between now and accomplishing our goal? Who’s responsible for each of those steps? What’s the state of each of those things? And yet, amazingly, when you go into the vast majority of organizations, people can’t give you answers to those basic questions. Rather than having the information decentralized over lots of different conversations and e-mails, we give you a canonical record of all the information. You don’t have to come over to my desk and ask me or have me forward them in an e-mail.

How does your software deal with distraction through over-communication?
We have a feature called focus mode. So if you’re working on a task, you can just hit one keyboard shortcut and if new messages come in we won’t tell you about them.

Can digital technology solve all the problems of the modern-day workplace? And if not, then what’s left?
A lot of times the problem is that people are unmotivated or can’t make the best decisions because they don’t have a bigger-picture understanding of why they’re doing this work in the first place.

Well, I don’t have a problem with either the big picture or motivation—but I do find it difficult to keep track of details outside the actual writing process. Simply put, I get so absorbed in writing that my mind goes blank on other issues. That’s the downside of absolute focus. It’s the writer’s version of the Absent Minded Professor syndrome. I’m endeavoring to cope with it through a mix of software and checklists. As it happens, I don’t use Asana but a web service called INSIGHTLY—which is based in Australia. It links with EVERNOTE which is where I keep all my unstructured data.

What other software do I use? It’s a frighteningly long list—though most are single use programs that I only use occasionally. I write in MS Word and blog in Live Writer. I browse in Google Chrome.

There was a day when a writer needed little more than a quill pen and paper. Today, it might well be an advantage to start off with a degree in computer science. Is this progress? I’m damned if I know—but, despite all the frustrations that I have experienced with computers, it’s fun.

Saturday, February 22, 2014



In Ireland—which is where I come from originally—water just comes down from the skies. I used to regard this as decidedly inconvenient because it made for a soggy childhood, but now I appreciate the value of rain. Just as well—since I live in Seattle.

My childhood was soggy because I spent a great deal of time out of doors and the available raingear at the time was either hot and heavy—or didn’t keep out the rain for any length of time. My school approved gabardine raincoat, for instance, would start leaking after about 20 minutes in steady rain which was a fat lot of good if you were watching a rugby match for two hours in chilly North Yorkshire (which is where I went to boarding school). You got soaked, and stayed soaked, and got very very cold.

Today, there is a vast array of light, comfortable, breathable raingear—but that certainly wasn’t the case back in the day.

Why was I sent to boarding school in England? Because I am Anglo-Irish and it was something of a family tradition. It also meant that I ended up with an English accent—which confuses the hell out of people. The Anglo-Irish used to be the ruling class in Ireland when the place was occupied by the British. We used to be the people living in the big houses—owning much of the land. Now—as is appropriate—we are dying out.

Do I mind? Worrying about death is pointless—as for the housing aspect, though I grew up in big houses, not in the least. In fact, I have been happier living in relatively small places such as my Irish thatched cottage. I have all the space I need in my mind. It’s one of the many joys of being a writer.

Back to water. Oddly enough I do think about it a great deal because I have a sneaky feeling that we are contaminating it much more than we realize—and that the quality of our water is one the reasons why Americans age sicker, die sooner, and roughly half of us suffer from chronic conditions.

Do I know about the contamination for sure? No—I don’t—and I still drink the stuff, and bathe in it; but it niggles at me. I don’t wake up screaming about it—but I’d like to really know. And I do feel decidedly concerned when I read about water supplies being contaminated—and remarkably little being done about it. West Virginia comes to mind—as do the consequences of fracking. But, there are numerous other examples—not to mention our way of life.

But surely our water supplies are tested?

Inadequately is the answer. Essentially we check for a certain number of known contaminants such as arsenic and lead—but we don’t check routinely for the mass of what one might call ‘lifestyle’ contaminants. These include tens of thousands of industrial chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, and—above all—medications. Everything we ingest ends up being flushed away—and eventually is recycled into our water supply.

Am I sure?


But surely if our water supplies were contaminated, we’d be experiencing the consequences—and would be doing something out it.

If people were dropping dead after drinking a glass of water, we would certainly be taking action—but we tend to be complacent where slow insidious threats are concerned—especially where identifying and eliminating the threat costs money (and makes a few very rich indeed).

All this writing is making me thirsty. Time for a mug of tea.

Photo is of pollution in China. We have more than enough in the U.S. as well.


Hugo Fitzduane, in case you don’t know, is the protagonist in three of my thrillers—and lives in a castle on a small island just off the West Coast of Ireland.

The above is not identical to the one I created for Fitzduane—the roof of his tower is flat, for instance—but it gives the general idea.

Some people find that a little incredible that anyone would still live in a castle, but clearly they know little of Irish history or the country itself. Ireland was, in fact, invaded by the Normans in 1169—and the first thing that Normans did after they has seized land was to build a temporary castle, which, over time, would be replaced by a stone one.

Then, after they had secured one parcel of land, they would move on, seize more land, and build another castle. Eventually, they ended up with a network of mutually supporting castles-and the remains of such fortified structures still dot the landscape. In fact, not all are in ruins—and some are still lived in.

Thoor Ballylee - - 67589.jpgThe poet, William Butler Yeats, lived in one for a while. It is called THOOR BALLYLEE—and, yes, I have been in it. In fact I have toured many castles, and even slept in a couple, though I have never lived in one.

Yeats bought his keep for about $50—lucky man!

I did, in fact, plan to build a Yeat’s type tower for a while—but trying to communicate this concept to the local planning people proved problematic. They looked at me as if I had two heads.

The reality is that I just like castles.

The website comments as follows:

As with church building, the Black Death was one significant reason why Norman castle construction came to a virtual halt in Ireland around 1350. But, probably within half a century or so, a new kind of less strong fortification evolved - the tower-house. In contrast to the Norman castles, which were designed to house the Lord and his retinue of retainers and soldiers (these latter housed in long-vanished barracks within the curtain walls), the tower-houses were essentially family homes of the better-off landed proprietors. Their distribution throughout the country (though their paucity in the north is probably the result of considerable destruction) shows that, unlike the larger earlier castles, the tower-houses were built by Irish and Anglo-Norman alike. They were sometimes contained within a bawn, which was doubtless more effective in keeping cattle in than human marauders out, as best seen at Dunguaire near Kinvara. The towers were up to four storeys high, with the family living on the upper two floors and the servants occupying the vaulted basement. Furniture and comfort was probably frugal, except perhaps in castles such as Bunratty, Cahir and Blarney, where the impressive size suggests greater affluence in the families which lived there. Tower-houses are mainly a product of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but one instance is recorded as late as 1643 at Derryhivenny in Galway which, like other western maritime counties such as Clare and Limerick, is particularly rich in monuments of this type.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Mainly as a result of my work, I have been running across some interesting websites recently—and have determined to give them more publicity than I have been, particularly where fellow book lovers are concerned.

Books are my life, we writers need all the help we can get, and anyone who is passionate about books and reading, is my friend—and someone who I want to support. is based upon the appealing premise of “bringing you all things books” and is best described in the site author’s own words:

Life always existed for me, more real at times, through the books I read and their characters than the life I’ve lived. My dream is to provide a place where you want to sit down, get comfortable with your favorite beverage and select a book from the authors featured here that will help you escape to that place where only you – and your favorite characters – exist.

Room With Books began when my interest in Facebook first reconnected me with family around the country. Through them I made many Facebook friends. With the help and encouragement of my cousin, Linda Boulanger, a publisher, cover designer, editor, and most importantly, an author, I began sharing posts from many of the friends I made and I soon realized I had an avid interest in promoting new and established authors, helping with book cover reveals, book releases and other book publishing events. Thus Room With Books was born.

I currently have several Facebook pages I’m involved with, but the one I’m most partial to is . Please come over for a visit, like the page, and be sure to keep me posted of any new authors or upcoming releases you would like to see featured here!

The site is run by Patricia—and, excellent content apart—is clean, elegant and visually appealing. In short, it has style.

Commendable work. Well worth visiting.

The above graphic is featured on Patricia’s LinkedIn profile.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


When I first started writing, I was still at prep school, and used a pen which you had to dip in ink every few words—the direct descendant of a quill pen. Such pens had handles of wood which were uncomfortable to hold—and it was near impossible to write for any length of time without getting ink on your fingers. You tried to remove that with a pumice stone—only to have it replaced the following day.

Those wooden-handled pens (much less shapely than the above example)were horrible things and they required an open inkwell to be built into every desk. Such removable inkwells made excellent missiles—and splattered well when thrown. Low intensity warfare was a feature of much of my early school life. We used rulers to fence with, paper pellets fired from rubber bands as projectile weapons, and fists at close quarters. Dip pens were also used to jab with. The handle was normally used to impact with, but sometimes the nib end came in handy.

I don’t think I wrote anything of any note until my grandmother gave me a Parker fountain with a gold plated nip. This held a reservoir of ink inside the more bulbous handle and was the iPad of its day as far as I was concerned. I thought it was just wonderful, and began to write at length—sometimes just for the pleasure of seeing words appear on the page. A fountain pen also made it vastly easier to write lines—a standard punishment at the time. Trying to write: “Revise with a pen in your hand,” a hundred times with a dip pen was not a pleasant task.

In my early teens I ran across Bic ballpoints and found they were better than fountain pens for taking notes with. Fountain pens tended to dry out while you waited for the teacher to utter his words of wisdom. As a consequence I switched to Bics filled with green ink and kept truly excellent notes  with them. Using a ballpoint was frowned upon for essay writing or any serious work so I would revert to a fountain pen equipped with an italic nib. At that stage I had been taught italic writing so my handwriting looked pretty much like the above example.

It wasn’t to last. Broadly speaking, the quality of my handwriting decreased much as my libido increased—so by my late teens, I had largely abandoned italic writing for the functionality of a ballpoint—and my writing had become pretty terrible.

The solution was a typewriter, but though I made various attempts to learn to type, the skill eluded me. What is more, I didn’t like manual typewriters. They were hard work—and didn’t produce the visual look I was after. Electric typewriters did produce an excellent result, but I couldn’t afford one. I continued to do most of my writing by hand.

This was odd because my writer friends—whether they could type properly or not—were passionately fond of their machines and continued to use them until either writer or machine—decidedly battered by life—died of old age.

I often wonder would I ever have become a writer if computers had not been invented. I followed their development from the early days of dedicated word processors (remember Wang anyone?) followed Apple’s development with fascination, and actually had a Next on loan for a while. The Next was a vision ahead of the prevailing technology, but it was a clear indication of where Steve Job was heading.

I followed the evolution of computers with the enthusiasm of the most fanatical sports fan, and I hate to think how much money I spent travelling to exhibitions and buying software that—mostly—was a disappointment. To make matters worse, I have no natural talent for computers. That meant spending a ridiculous amount of money on computer gurus who mostly—when push came to shove—didn’t seem to know much more about these infernal machines than I did.

What I did have was a very clear idea of how I needed to work if I was to optimize my output as an author—and to cover the range of subjects that interest me. Finally, a few months short of my seventieth birthday, I seem to be getting there. It’s a strange feeling because even young children are now more comfortable with a keyboard than—arguably—I will ever be.

That said, despite the breakdowns, the dreadful early days of Windows, the disappointing software and the endless frustrations, computers have helped me become a writer, an author—and a Best Selling Author at that.

Édith Piaf 914-6440.jpgFor me, that is as good as it gets. It’s an impossible dream fulfilled—and a joyous way of life.

As far as I  am concerned—in the matter of computers—I  regret nothing. Or as Edith Piaf would put it, “No, je ne regrette rien.”

What a singer, what a language, what a life, what a song!

Photo is of Edith Piaf in 1962. She died in 1963 aged 47. Also known as The Little Sparrow, she was 4’ 9” tall.


We like to think of ourselves as intelligent, rational people, who—except where religion is concerned—make decisions based upon the best information available. I could comment on the irrationality of that position it itself—Why should we rely solely on belief where religion is concerned?—but this piece isn’t about religion: It’s about the corporate approach to the truth.

Here, I have to ask why we bring up our children to honor and tell the truth—and yet have created a culture which tolerates corporations saying pretty much what they like in pursuit of their financial interests? Such an attitude guarantees that we’ll be bombarded with propaganda—all of it self-serving, much of it deceptive, and the core of it being a downright distortion of the evidence.

Our acceptance of this situation ensures that we’ll be manipulated and deluded—and journey through life surrounded by a fog of lies—and yet we cling to the notion that we are rational. That strikes me as not just being inconsistent—but being dangerous. How can we enhance the human condition under such circumstances? And why do we hold the truth in such low esteem?

An area of particular concern is the scientific one which is supposedly based upon evidence. Where pure academic research is involved, it may well be—but it certainly isn’t where corporations are involved. A case in point is the medical world where we are led to believe that all treatment is evidence-based in accordance with the best scientific principles, but which even a modicum of research shows is more driven by hunch, opinion and the profit motive than science. In fact, that’s exactly why there is an evidence-based movement in medicine. It’s a praiseworthy attempt to reclaim the medical high ground. It is a tragedy indeed that it has been found necessary to talk about “evidence-based medicine” as opposed to “medicine.” They should be one and the same.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Robert J.Samuelson has just written a savage indictment of economists. You will find it in the February 16 2014 Washington Post. The following is an extract.

These are hard times for economists. Their reputations are tarnished; their favorite doctrines are damaged. Among their most prominent thinkers, there is no consensus as to how — or whether — governments in advanced countries can improve lackluster recoveries. All in all, the situation recalls a cruel joke:

How many economists does it take to change a light bulb? None. When the one they used in graduate school goes out, they sit in the dark.

Recently, economists at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a retrospective study of its economic forecasts. This qualifies as an act of bureaucratic courage, because the record was predictably dismal. Not only did the OECD miss the 2008-09 financial crisis, but it routinely over-predicted the recovery’s strength. In May 2010, for example, the OECD forecast that the U.S. economy would grow 3.2 percent in 2011. Actual growth was 1.7 percent. This is a huge error, and there were larger misses for some European economies as well.

Well, he is certainly right about forecasting though I think he is wrong about several other points he makes—and, as it happens, I did forecast the 2008-9 Great Recession back in 2004. That said, I don’t think economics should focus on forecasting as much as it does. Economists get it wrong for a number of reasons:

  • They rely too heavily on mathematical models. Such models can be useful but to expect accuracy to within a couple of percent is unrealistic. There are far too many variables.
  • They only count what they can count—and there is a great deal in an economy you can’t count (like the Republican Party’s policy of blocking just about everything).
  • The statistics they rely upon are far from accurate. Bluntly, the whole U.S. government statistical methodology needs to be overhauled drastically. Currently, we don’t know what we need to know as fast as we need to know it. 
  • They underestimate the speed at which an economy can collapse—and particularly the U.S. economy where the social controls that exist in, for instance, Germany, don’t exist.
  • By and large, they don’t understand the full implications of financialization compounded by monopolization.
  • They pay far too much attention to GDP and far too little to structure. GDP is a deeply flawed metric, yet it is the overarching number we use to measure the health of the economy. This is crazy—but we continue to do it.
  • Forecasting is a mug’s game anyway. No one has a crystal ball and there are just too many variables.

Economists are much better at analyzing economic history, the status quo, and at spotting trends—in short, they help us understand the economy (an incredibly important task). Some—arguably not many—are also good at coming up with policies. However, whether politicians implement them effectively, or fully, is another matter.

In point of fact, there are some outstanding economists in the U.S.—Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman being but two examples—and they have been remarkably accurate in their their diagnoses of our most serious economic problems. However, despite their track records, both seem to be too outspoken to appeal to the Obama administration—more is the pity.

As to Samuelson’s point about there being no consensus amongst economists re the appropriate policies which should be followed to rev up the economy, that is not quite true. There is broad agreement between those of similar political orientation.

Samuelson also takes a predictable swipe at Keynesianism.

When the economy suffers a massive drop in private spending, government should offset the loss by increasing its budget deficits. Europe’s budget cuts were too aggressive, they say, while U.S. “stimulus” policies were not aggressive enough.

Perhaps history will vindicate this appeal to Keynesianism. Or perhaps not. The fact is that the United States did respond aggressively under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. It certainly didn’t embrace austerity. Federal budgets ran the massive deficits — $6.2 trillion worth from 2008 to 2013, averaging 6.4 percent of the economy (gross domestic product).Nothing like this had occurred since World War II. Yet, the economy limped along. Why wasn’t this enough?

Most people miss the fact that Keynes was a pragmatist—not an ideologue. He would work out a principle then refine the details—sometimes getting them wrong at first. But he was a quick study and normally ended up with a result that worked. He did not say things like “The private sector is inherently more efficient than government,” when the correct answer is: It depends.

As it happens, there is abundant evident that the stimulus did work—even though, in an effort to gain consensus—to win over some Republicans—it was both inadequate and flawed. The following are just some of the the reasons it did not work as well as we would have liked. But, it did work.

  • Too much was in the form of tax cuts which primarily helped the rich—and also ensured that much was merely banked—whereas the object was to have it circulate.
  • The total was spread over a period so the impact in any one years was much less than most people realize.
  • The stimulus was heavily offset by cuts at state and local level. This is a crucial point.
  • The stimulus was not supported by a range of other government initiatives which, all together, would have had a multiplier effect.

I’ll deal with the flaws in the Fed’s activities on another occasion. Suffice to say that although they appear to have restored the health of the banks and driven up stock prices, they have increase income inequality, and done little for the real economy. If the same amount of money had been used in a more enlightened way, the results could have been dramatic.

Ideology is the curse of the thinking classes. Here we have case histories in both the U.S. and Europe from which we can learn much—yet ideology blinds us.

If anything brings this Great Nation down, it won’t be terrorism—or the Chinese. It will be greed, ideology, and problems in our economic structure—which we are letting fester.








Tuesday, February 18, 2014


These people are our fellow citizens. Their numbers may include family members, relatives, and friends—and yet the system has cut them off from Federal Government help.

You have been out of work too long. Clearly you are worthless.

Is this how Americans treat Americans?

Apparently so.

“The greatest country in the world”—and this sort of cruelty do not go together.

“Land of the brave and home of the free.”

You are very far from free when you have no income. Poverty is a prison. Financial stress kills.

The following is some background from a Washington Post story.

Never in more than 65 years have so many workers been without a job and without a government lifeline. Congress cut off 1 million people en masse in December when it permitted a special emergency program for the long-term unemployed to lapse. Since then, their ranks have been growing by about 72,000 a week, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), which lobbies on behalf of the jobless.

On Tuesday, in testimony before Congress,Federal Reserve Chair Janet L. Yellen highlighted long-term unemployment as one of the central challenges of the U.S. economic recovery. Not only is it a sign that the labor market is still weak, she said, but it also shows that economic growth is falling far short of its potential.

The problem has also consumed White House officials, who worry not only about how to get these people back to work but also about how they get by. Former White House chief economist Alan Krueger said he once visited an off-track betting site in the middle of the day in hopes of finding cutoff workers and interviewing them about how they were supporting themselves.

“I still couldn’t figure it out,” said Krueger, who returned last year to his job teaching economics at Princeton University. He dubbed the phenomenon “the Kramer effect,” after Cosmo Kramer, the eccentric “Seinfeld” character who had no clear means of support.

Someone who loses a job typically receives unemployment benefits from the state for 26 weeks. During the recession, however, the number of people who remained out of work swelled, and Congress voted in 2008 to provide additional aid that made checks available for as long as 99 weeks in the hardest-hit states.

Last year, lawmakers cut the maximum benefit to 73 weeks. Then, at the end of December, Congress let federal aid lapse altogether.

Mitchell Hirsch of NELP said people were “thrust essentially overnight from a situation where they were struggling to make ends meet with their benefits into one where they’re now struggling just to survive.” Six weeks later, he said, “what we’re hearing . . . is increasingly desperate.”

And what does the American Business Model do about this deplorable situation? It makes matters worse by shunning these people.

The blame for this lies squarely with the Republican party—and this needs to be said repeatedly. The president and the Democrats want to extend benefits.

Only the House Republicans stand in the way.

Such behavior flies in the face of common human decency.  It defies contempt.

Monday, February 17, 2014



The protagonist in most of my thrillers is an Anglo-Irish soldier turned combat photographer, turned terrorist hunter, Hugo Fitzduane, who lives in an old castle on an island off the West Coast of Ireland.

His actual location doesn’t exist but it was inspired by Connemara—a truly wild and beautiful part of the world in the West.

The above videos don’t cover exactly where Fitzduane is supposed to live but they help to explain why I fell on love with the West when I first went there on a walking holiday in my early teens. Subsequently, I have returned many times and never fail to be awed by the beauty of the place.

I’m going to look for a video which is nearer to my image of Fitzduane’s island, but meanwhile this is a test to see whether this works.

If it does, you are going to be seeing many more videos in the future as I endeavor to show you’re the locations and people I feature in my books—together with some of the context.

I am more than thrilled at the prospect.

I would urge you to think of visiting Ireland in general—and the West in particular. It’s a magic part of the world—and romantic.

In fact, most my visits there have romantic associations—and viewing these videos brings back some wonderful memories.

I would add that the I have had the memorable experience of seeing Ireland from the air—many times.

Words don’t do it justice. 


Most people don’t think of book writers as entrepreneurs—but, if you don’t have a day job, that’s exactly what we are. We take risks and create new things. We have scant economic security. Mind you, I was an entrepreneur in the generally understood sense before I became a writer—and have learned most of what little I know through the school of hard knocks. That is a polite way of saying I have failed a great deal—but normally finally succeeded (at least for a while). 

Success in the creative arts tends to be fleeting. Even if you are one of the few authors who achieves commercial success, you may well find that stands in the way of the stuff you really want to write. It’s a classic creative conundrum (over which you will cogitate considerably).

I know I will never succeed in being as good a writer as I would like—so, in a sense, writing involves being in a state of permanent failure—but the effort is so satisfying, so stimulating, so compelling, and so joyous, that I would prefer to fail in writing than succeed in another line of work. And some might quarrel with my definition of writing failure since I tend to raise the bar again and again—and want to conquer new fields.

The challenge is the driving force.

Having achieved some success in novel writing, I wanted to try non-fiction. Screenplays followed. Next—I want to try short story writing. And finally, I think it will be fun to write my memoirs. Is that all? N0—I’d like to give my award-winning playwright son, Christian O’Reilly, a run for his money—and write at least one play for the theater. I doubt very much it will reach the standard of his work (he is impressively talented) but it will be an adventure.

Does my reach exceed my grasp? Probably so—but it is just wonderful to try.

All of this is leading up to saying that I’m a tremendous admirer of entrepreneurship in its myriad of forms—and regard it as crucial to the health of any thriving economy. As a consequence, I have been reading the Kauffman Foundation’s latest report on entrepreneurship with concern—even though its findings validate my own. I hold to the view that the current American Business Model is broken—and that the real economy suffers from serious structural flaws. If I am right, then the Kauffman findings could be expected.

The following are a few extracts from the Kaufman report.

Stalled economic mobility and rising income inequality also threaten the economy’s long-term health. There is growing evidence that socioeconomic status is stickier than it once was; individuals are less likely to climb to higher income brackets or fall into lower ones. And less mobility has contributed to growing inequality: more than 100 percent of the wealth increase in the United States between 1983 and 2009 went to the top    20 percent of households, with the other 80 percent actually seeing a net decrease in wealth. Median household income—the core economic indicator for broad-based economic growth—has stalled  since 1999.

Historically, entrepreneurship and innovation
have been the principal sources of economic growth,
technological progress, productivity, and rising standards of living. Entrepreneurship plays an important role, for example, in net new job creation. Recent research indicates that “high-growth (incumbent) businesses contribute about  
50 percent of job creation and startups account for about 20 percent of job creation. Most of those high-growth companies, however, also are entrepreneurial firms under six years old.

The bottom line is that is that that we’re being less entrepreneurial now that we used to be. Why is that? Various reasons have been advanced. Let me list my some of my thoughts.

  • Despite the fact that we’re statistically in a recovery and growing, the earning power of most of us is in decline. That makes it more difficult to raise initial capital from family and friends (the traditional source of seed capital)..
  • Bank lending to Small Business still hasn’t recovered to even pre-2008 levels. Without the involvement of the Small Business Administration, bank lending to Small Business would be close to non existent. Big Banks are innately biased towards Big Business because the administrative cost are lower and it is safer. Despite the financialization of the economy, Small Business is singularly ill served when it comes to raising funds. This tends to mean that Small Businesses are under-capitalized—which substantially increases the chances of failure.
  • The entire economy is tilted in favor of the rich, the superrich and the corporations they own. They borrow money cheaper, pay tax at lower rates, operate under regulations that favor them, enjoy economies of scale, and have both the power and will to crush the upstart. In addition they are now able to squeeze substantial tax, grant and infrastructure benefits from federal, state and local governments. Why not indeed! They largely own the government.
  • Although legislation has been passed to make the raising of capital easier, the SEC is in the process of imposing so many regulations, that the legal costs of raising such money look like being excessive. Here, I am referring to the JOBS act.
  • The risks of leaving a secure job (decidedly less secure than it was) are frighteningly high, the odds are against you, and arguably the rewards not commensurate.

Can something be done to boost entrepreneurship? Of course. I could write pages on the subject (and probably will). However, with Congress so polarized at present, we seem to be stuck in a political rut. That said, much more could be done at state and local level. A vital Small Business sector is essential for a prosperous economy—and for employment. That obvious fact is not adequately understood by politicians in general.

Fortunately, entrepreneurs are risk-takers and innately march to the beat of a different drum. But our numbers are dwindling. Is that good for this already excessively corporatized nation?

I rather think not.

Mind you, I am biased.






Sunday, February 16, 2014


Forbes Thought Of The Day

“ I never remember feeling tired by work, though idleness exhausts me completely. ”

— Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I love quotes, but haven’t yet decided to incorporate them into this blog on a regular basis. Essentially, I feel that I should be writing rather than curating quotes. That said, some are so good, I’m tempted to compromise.

I left the FORBES name in because since they picked the quote, I feel they should get the credit. Also, I have started reading their magazine again—albeit online. It’s a better magazine than I remember.

Robert C. Neff:  portraitMy favorite business magazine is BUSINESS WEEK—largely because it is not blindly pro-business, but is intelligently critical and displays considerable social concern. Also, I have been reading it since I first went to university at the age of 16 so it is practically incorporated into my DNA. A further connection was that their Japan correspondent, BOB NEFF, was very kind to me when I was in Tokyo—and a temporary member of the Foreign Correspondents Club. I have never been much of a joiner, but I loved that place and met some remarkable people there. One of most impressive was MURRAY SAYLE—a war correspondent of both experience and integrity who was actually living in Japan at the time. Spending time with him and his family was very special. Sadly, he died a few years back—but what a man and what a life! Amongst other things, he climbed Everest, tracked down Che Guevara, and wrote the definitive account of the Hiroshima bombing. He also covered the Vietnam War superbly.

I regard it as tragedy that U.S. media corporations have cut back so much on their foreign correspondents—and truly ironic given that we have never needed to know more about “what lies on the other side of the hill (to use the Duke of Wellington’s phrase).” The thing is that you have to live in a country for a while before you get to understand it. Flying in just for a crisis is not the same thing at all.

The best foreign correspondents are widely read, widely travelled, empathetic people whose company you would be hard put not to enjoy. I have been honored to know more than a few. Most were men though I can think of a few women who were just as remarkable. All drank more than is considered advisable—and reported superbly. All were cynical optimists, had a great sense of humor, and a deep understanding of humanity.

These were not petty people—and I wish there were more of them. Americans need to know and understand more about the rest of the world. We have much to learn from it.

Top photo is of foreign correspondent and friend, Murray Sayle—a truly magnificent human being—with a family to match.

Lower photo is of Tokyo Bureau Chief of Business Week 1989-1995

Saturday, February 15, 2014


article imageI have never understood the male bias against women—though I have encountered it often enough.

In fact, when I was in business (as if writing is not a business) I regularly promoted women over men for the practical reason that they seemed to be more effective. Of course, that depended on the individual, but I noticed that—generally speaking—they are better listeners, better at detail, and better at inter-personal relationships. That said, I have worked both with, and for, some truly unpleasant specimens—but they tended to be exceptions. Also, I said “more effective”—I did not say “nicer.”

But are women nicer than men? I have absolutely no idea. Since I like women—and they have been the predominant influences in my life—I probably find them pleasanter personally—but given that I have some rather wonderful male friends, I am not even sure of that. I will say they are easier to communicate with. We males tend to adopt a persona at an early age, and then hide behind that. Women, by and large, are more direct.

I will confess I find attractive women distracting (and I find most women attractive in one way or another)—sometimes extremely so—but, since I have long been aware of that bias, I have never regarded it as a reason to keep women in their place (whatever that is). Working out how to get them into bed is another matter. And I think that’s all I’ll say on that subject.

My housemaster at school—who went on to become the abbot—once commented that there is no such thing as a platonic relationship between a man and a women—an insight that made my eyebrows shoot up. Now I think he may be right—because the sexual dynamic almost always colors the relationship, however much it is kept suppressed. Nonetheless, that is still no excuse for not treating women as work equals; and paying and promoting them accordingly. It is just plain wrong to do otherwise.

In fact, if I had my way, we’d split everything between the sexes—Congress, corporate boards, academia, and definitely the church. As for the presidency, since we can’t slice people in two and glue them together (as yet) I’d have them alternate.

This comment was sparked off by a piece in the Washington Post.

In new study, nearly a third of science and tech leaders think a woman can’t reach the top

The problem of getting more young women into science and high-tech fields is getting a lot of recent attention, from a newly launched national mentorship program for budding female scientists to Super Bowl ads for engineering toys designed for girls.

But keeping them in those fields — and helping them reach the top — may be an even bigger challenge. A new report to be released Wednesday afternoon from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), the research think tank founded by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett, finds that U.S. women working in these fields are 45 percent more likely than their male peers to leave the industry within the year.

In addition, the study also found that nearly a third of senior leaders — both male and female — who work in science, engineering and technology fields reported that a woman would never reach the top position in their company. “Even the senior guys who are in a position to make change for the women in their company don’t feel like they can do it,” says Laura Sherbin, the director of research for CTI. When that’s the case, she asks, “what’s left?”

Friday, February 14, 2014


A Booz Allen consultant I once worked with memorably remarked—in the context of some task that he had not attended to—that he had been: “Overwhelmed by life.” I thought it was a wonderful expression—especially when delivered with a tired, but ironic, smile.

The delightful Brigid SchulteBrigid Schulte has now written a book on the theme and I have been recommended to like it by that excellent journalist Tom Bowman via Facebook. Since I have great respect for Tom, I have done as requested. True, I haven’t read the book as yet—because it doesn’t come out until March—but if it is anything like as good as her recent Washington Post piece, I’ll be queuing up.

Everything you wanted to know about sex and housework but were too busy to ask


February 10 at 2:02 am

So husbands and wives who share work, housework and child care are sexless but equal? At least according to an explosive New York Times magazine article that is rocketing around the Web like a heat-seeking missile in the ongoing Battle of the Sexes.

Psychotherapist and writer Lori Gottlieb tells the stories of couples who are striving to more equitably juggle all the competing demands of modern life, but dropping the ball when it comes time to turn out the lights. She writes of egalitarian couples saying they’re bored in bed. Their sex lives mediocre and uninteresting. Or non-existent.

In contrast, Gottlieb cites a study that found that couples with more traditional marriages – she cooks and cleans, he mows and changes the oil  – have more sex. And the wives in these 1950s-era unions report feeling more sexually satisfied — more turned on, apparently, by the site of a sweaty hunk swaggering around outside with a manly leaf blower than a milquetoast throwing in another load of girly laundry in the basement.

The full piece is well worth reading—but now let me jump to the end.

Natalie Angier, the New York Times science writer, in her fascinating book, “Woman: An Intimate Geography,” takes on long-held assumptions that women just don’t want sex as much as men do, and have to be pursued, won over with chocolates, wowed by manly wood chopping or obligated after a grudging bout of vacuuming.

“Men have the naturally higher sex drive, yet all the laws, customs, punishments shame, strictures, mystiques, and anti mystiques are aimed with full hominid fury at that tepid, sleepy, hypoactive creature the female libido,” she writes. “How can we know what is ‘natural’ for us when we are treated as unnatural for wanting our lust?”

After all, she writes, female primates, who share so much of our DNA, are pretty randy creatures.

In the end, what strikes me most about all the fury about sex and housework is just how much we are still on the bleeding edge of the first massive shift in gender roles since, oh, the Pleistocene era. It’s not surprising that things are confusing. And the demands of modern life leave us little time to sort them out.

But rather than mourn the supposedly sexier unions of the past, with dominant men and submissive women, or lament that the current move to egalitarian partnerships leaves us sexless roommates, why not, as Elliott suggests, throw out the old sexual scripts. Why not begin to imagine something entirely new – not only a fairer division of labor, but a more honest expression of our human sexuality?

Now that’s something to fantasize about.

Brigid Schulte is a staff writer at The Washington Post where she writes about work-life issues, gender and poverty. Her book, "Overwhelmed, Work, Love and Play when No One Has the Time," on time pressure and modern life will be published in March by Sarah Crichton Books/ Farrar Straus & Giroux.

Based on my own experience—and some recent events—I have to say that I think Natalie Angier is right. I am further of the opinion that assuming the necessary chemistry is there, women are every bit as sexual as men. Perhaps more so. But, I will admit that my research has been somewhat one-sided. Some men prefer men sexually. That is their privilege. I prefer women.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Thursday, February 13, 2014


I've only shot someone at very close range—so missing really didn't come into it—which is why I was close.

Apparently if you are in a deadly threat situation - typically within 21 feet - the track record suggests that you have a 75-93% probability of missing with your first shot.

Why so—despite all your practice?

Because your body reacts entirely differently to a gunfight than it does when target shooting. Your stress level rockets. Facing death has that effect. Your body—being sensible—doesn’t  like it; and communicates its displeasure with vigor. Your heart pounds. Your mouth goes dry. Your hands shake. It is extremely difficult to shoot accurately under such circumstances.

A new company called Advanced Ballistic Concepts reckons it can improve your odds of getting a hit with your first or second shot with either a handgun or shotgun. ABC has come up with a personal defense round that fragments after it leaves the muzzle, but where the fragments are held together to form a 14" diameter projectile mass in .45 caliber. The linking material is something like Kevlar thread.

There is a shotgun version of the round which spreads its tethered fragments 24." If you can't hit someone with that kind of spread, you're in the wrong line of work.

Check out ABC's Multiple Impact Bullet at You can also check it out on YouTube. It's the same principle as chain-shot where two half-cannon-balls joined together by a chain were used to cut rigging—or any human it happened to encounter.


Where ABC is concerned, the truly impressive thing is how their people have managed to get the same effect in something as small as a 9mm handgun round.

Is there a downside to this kind of ammunition? Well, it's not the kind of stuff you'd use for plinking. It will cost you $5 or $6 a round. Secondly, I imagine its penetration ability suffers—both a good and a bad thing depending upon the situation. Thirdly, these are not long-range rounds (as far as I know).

For personal defense with a handgun, they would seem to make a great deal of sense.

Should ordinary citizens be allowed to have guns? This is one fight I’m staying out of. Most of my friends own firearms—and I enjoy shooting, On the other hand, the death rate from firearms is horrendous. But then so is the death rate from medical error (actually it is a great deal higher). Either way, the right to bear arms is established by the Constitution.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


A few years ago I read a book about cheating in the U.S., and what came across was that cheating was endemic, and now part of the American culture.

You do what you have to do to get ahead in a free market ?conomy where careerism in both business and the military is rife. And why stop at cheating, when you can steal. Yes, I am thinking of the current Air Force and Army scandals—which are but the tip of the iceberg.

Here, I’m not talking about sex or war—which have their own ground rules, or lack of them—but about exams, business, sport, and so on. In this context, I ran across a blog which claims that High Speed Trading is cheating.

Yes, it certainly is—but it is notable that the SEC does nothing about it. Similarly, it tolerates share buybacks by the corporations themselves which is clearly insider trading because the buyers—being insiders—have information which is not generally available. You can go to prison for insider trading—though apparently you are immune if you are a corporate CEO or senior executive.

If the U.S. is a nation of laws, enforcement of them is a decidedly moveable feast. 

Anyway, the blog starts with a story from the Atlantic—a story that has the ring of truth..

I was a senior in high school, and I was staring at NBA legend Red Auerbach. He'd coached the Boston Celtics to nine championships in 10 years, won seven more as an executive, and, a bit less notably, gotten his first coaching job at our schoolway back when. He was 85 years old, but he lived nearby and had finally agreed to come back to be feted.
Then Auerbach turned to life lessons. "Everybody always asks me how to gain a competitive edge," he said, "and I'm always surprised because the answer is so obvious." Eighteen-year old me knew where this was going. He was going to tell us to work hard, that successful people prepare for their luck, yada, yada, yada.
"You cheat."
Our teachers looked confused, then horrified. They kept waiting for Auerbach to say he was just kidding, that of course there's no substitute for hard work. He didn't. Instead, he calmly explained that if you're playing a better fast-breaking team, you should install nets so tight that the ball gets stuck. Or if you're playing a faster baseball team, you should water the basepaths till they turn into muddy quagmires that nobody can run on. But most of all, he wanted to make sure we didn't misunderstand him. He cleared his throat, and said, "So, if you want a competitive edge, just cheat." Then he walked off stage, and the mayor's mother, who was inexplicably there, led us in a solemn rendition of America the Beautiful.

To repeat myself: The American Business Model is broken—and its problems aren’t just structural—they are cultural.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


For years now I have been preaching that the U.S.’s economic problems are structural—and recently ran across a paper which reaches exactly the same conclusions. It’s by William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts and its dated July 2012. It’s titled:

The Financialization of the US Corporation: What Has Been Lost, and How It Can Be Regained

It’s a great read, even if you are not an economist—and it reinforces my argument that there are Body Snatchers at work (only he calls them corporations). The following is an extract from this hard-hitting paper. It deserves a wide audience. Despite its restrained academic language, it’s actually a scathing indictment of the current American Business Model—and of corporations in particular. It is also supported by the evidence. All in all, he makes an entirely convincing case.

But, what are we doing about it? Virtually nothing.

As the US economy still struggles to recover from the Great Recession , the erosion of middle - class jobs and the explosion of income inequality have gone on long enough to raise serious questions about whether the US economy is beset by deep structural problems. My research on the evolution of the US economy over the past half century shows that such is indeed the case (see Lazonick 2009a, 2009c; 2010a; 2012). Since the beginning of the 1980s employment relations in US industrial corporations have undergone three major structural changes –which I summarize as “rationalization”, “marketization”, and “globalization” –that have permanently eliminated middle-class jobs. From the early 1980s rationalization, characterized by plant closings, eliminated the jobs of unionized blue -collar workers. From the early 1990s marketization, characterized by the end of a career with one company as an employment norm, placed the job security of middle -aged and older white-collar workers in jeopardy. From the early 2000s globalization, characterized by the offshoring of employment, left all members of the US labor force, even those with advanced educational credentials and substantial work experience, vulnerable to displacement.

Initially, each of these structural changes in employment could be justified in terms of major changes in industrial conditions related to technologies, markets, and competition.
In the early 1980s the plant closings that characterized rationalization were a response to the superior productive capabilities of Japanese competitors in consumer durable and
related capital goods industries that employed significant numbers of unionized blue-collar workers. In the early 1990s the erosion of the one-company-career norm among white-collar workers that characterized marketization was a response to the dramatic technological shift from proprietary systems to open systems that was integral to the microelectronics revolution. In the early 2000s the acceleration in the offshoring of the
jobs of well-educated and highly experienced  members of the  US  labor force that characterized globalization was a response to the emergence of large supplies of highly capable labor in lower-wage developing nations such as China and India.

Once US corporations adopted these structural changes in employment, however, they often pursued these employment strategies purely for financial gain. Some companies closed manufacturing plants, terminated experienced (and generally more expensive) workers, and offshored production to low-wage areas of the world simply to increase profits, often at the expense of the  company’s  long-term competitive capabilities  and without regard for  displaced employees’ long years of service.  Moreover, as these changes became embedded in the structure of US employment, US business corporations failed to invest in new, higher value-added job creation on a sufficient scale to provide a foundation for equitable and stable growth in the US economy. On the contrary, with superior corporate performance defined as meeting Wall Street’s expectations of steadily rising targets of quarterly earnings per share, companies turned to massive stock repurchases. Trillions of dollars that could have been spent on innovation and job creation in the US economy over the past three decades have instead been used to buy back stock, the sole purpose of which is to manipulate a company’s stock price. Legitimizing this “financialized” mode of corporate resource allocation has been the ideology, itself a product of the 1980s and 1990s, that a business corporation should be run to “maximize shareholder value” (Lazonick and O’Sullivan 2000; Lazonick 2012).  Through their stock-based compensation, prime beneficiaries of this focus on rising stock prices as the measure of corporate performance have been the very same corporate executives who make these financialized resource allocation decisions.
In the next section of this paper, I summarize the evidence that supports the proposition that there have been fundamental structural changes in employment in the United States that since the early 1980s have eroded middle-class employment opportunities for the US labor force. Then I present the evidence that over the same period the remuneration of top executives of both industrial and financial corporations has been a major reason for the increasing concentration of income at the top. In the following sections I show that stock buybacks have became a massive and systemic way in which these corporate executives seek to boost their  companies’  stock prices,  and hence, via stock-based compensation, their own incomes. Then I point out how, in many different ways in many different industries,  this financialized  mode of corporate resource allocation has undermined the prosperity of the US economy. Finally I turn to the questions of what the conditions for sustainable prosperity that have been lost, and how they can be regained.

The situation is beyond serious—but who is going to act to redress the situation? The Republicans are unashamedly the party of the plutocracy; the Democrats are sufficiently paid off with corporate money not to want to rock the boat—and anyway don’t seem to know to communicate effectively; the president has taken over five years to stumble onto income inequality (only a fraction of the problem) but doesn’t seem to know what to do about it; and the media are owned by the very people who are causing the problem.

That leaves the American public who seem to have forgotten how to protest—or are too drugged to care.

This is a story which does not seem likely to end well. It’s fascinating for me intellectually—but I’m not sure I want hundreds of millions of Americans suffer economically just to keep me entertained. I’m rather fond of this country—and of its people.

Monday, February 10, 2014


While working for Addmaster, I had made a number of trips to the U.S. in the Seventies and loved the place.

Little did I know then that there were forces at work then that would change the country drastically—and not for the better. It was the end of the Golden Age which followed  World War II—a period during which wages and salaries rose in line with productivity, and during which the Middle Class boomed.

Economics had been my main focus at university, though I had never planned to practice it. I didn't think I was a good enough statistician to become a professional economist, though the behavioral aspect fascinated me.

Why did some policies work and others not—and what did work? What was the role of government? Was the free market inherently better?

I didn’t ponder these issues through an ideological lens. I simply wanted to know what worked. By that time, I had visited—and spent some time in—France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, the U.S., and Morocco—in addition to living in both Ireland and the UK—and it was clear to me that some countries were doing a great deal better than other.

When I tried to discuss this issue—which was often enough—the classic response was to praise or blame national characteristics: The Germans are so efficient. The French are lazy. The Swedes are…

Though I was well aware of the cultural differences, I didn’t buy this argument. It struck me that policies, and how they were implemented, constituted the primary reasons for success or failure.

The focus of much of my thinking was Ireland. I had returned there after leaving Addmaster UK—and found the country in a decidedly depressed state. That was scarcely surprising given the stagflation that dominated the Seventies—but it also became clear to me that government policies were scarcely helping.

Without consciously realizing it, I read more and more about the issues, and in the Eighties became actively involved in trying to open up the Irish economy. Mostly I spoke or lobbied in person. I didn’t write about economic issues in those days. All my writing efforts were focused on trying to progress my first novel. In essence, I was learning how to write—mostly by failing. And when I didn’t fail, my computer did.

My transition from business—where I had enjoyed considerable success—to writing was long, painful, and strewn with obstacles. I persevered because I knew it was my calling; but I was well aware that such a rationale made no practical sense.

Why don’t you get a job and write was the much proffered advice. However, it missed the point that writing required all the time I could give it—and more besides. Also, I craved time to think. Indeed, I lusted after it. I became convinced that the answers to most of the problems that faced us were out there—if only we would take the time to look (and looking included thinking). I still hold to that view.

Throughout the Eighties and the Nineties, though I read a great deal about the U.S., I didn’t pick up on the forces that were changing the U.S. economy so drastically. The analytical side of my brain was busy enough with trying to write; and any energy that I had left was devoted to trying to change Ireland—which we did (somewhat to my amazement). Then suddenly Ireland took off to become the Celtic Tiger—before greed took over. But, by that time I had moved to the U.S. with my two children, Evie and Bruff.

We arrived just in time for 9/11. That distracted me for a time—military related work was my focus for several years—but then I started to look seriously at the U.S. economy. It seemed to me that something was wrong; and that it posed a much greater threat to the U.S. than terrorism.

And yet the country seemed largely unaware that the American Business Model—the economic engine that drives this extraordinary country—was hard at work destroying it.

It still is.

I started researching the U.S. economy seriously in 2004 and soon came to the conclusion that there would be a recession in or around 2008. I also became convinced that America's problems were—and remain—structural.

I have now been digging away for ten years—and I’m still amazed that there isn’t a fundamental recognition of what is happening. Certainly, income inequality has finally received some decades overdue recognition—but that is a symptom—not a cause.

It’s very strange. We are in the middle of a crisis—but mostly unaware of the scale and consequences of it.

I’m reminded of the movie INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS where the world was being taken over, but most people didn’t even know there had been an invasion—let alone that the invaders were winning.

To be continued.