Sunday, November 30, 2014

(#60-1) November 30 2014. How much sex should you put into a book—if any? And how do you learn to write about sex anyway?

THANKSGIVING THOUGHTS

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

ON WRITING ABOUT SEX

Sexuality is not mere instinctuality; it is an indisputably creative power that is not only the basic cause of our individual lives, but a very serious factor in our psychic life as well.

Carl Jung

Sex is a part of nature. I go along with nature.

Marilyn Monroe

“Many lovers are ‘off to the races:’ Hurtling towards orgasm, they miss the excitement of sensual meanderings along the way.”

Alexandra Katehakis, Mirror of Intimacy: Daily Reflections on Emotional and Erotic Intelligence

“In my next life I want to live backwards. Start out dead and finish off as an orgasm.”
Woody Allen

“He slides himself inside her, her heart is bursting. The pithy organic organ can't hold all that she feels for this man. When she reaches her peak, her brain supernovas, a small, perfect death.”
MrsAlenko

“As if reading her mind, he leaned into her again, pupils dark, irises glowing like a forest caught in the last rays of sun before dusk… “Do you want me to make you come?”
“Is that a trick question?”
Dianna Hardy, Cry Of The Wolf

Anyone who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without feminine upheaval. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex, the ugly ones included.

Karl Marx

It's so long since I've had sex I've forgotten who ties up who.

Joan Rivers


 

Couples.JPG

Sex is as normal as breathing—and rather more enjoyable—so I’m somewhat puzzled at why we treat it the way we do. I find it hard to define that as precisely as I would like—it is a subject worth examining in more detail some other time—but it is a cross between demonization and distaste as far much of our culture is concerned (despite considerable progress towards tolerance and openness).

Niches apart (Comopolitan, for instance) what we don’t do is either talk about it openly, or write about it, with honesty. That is not considered to be in good taste. Sexual candor is not regarded to be a good thing except in the context of pornography. Accordingly, publicly we treat it much of the time as if it was dirty—something to be ashamed of.  In a word, we are hypocrites. There are numerous exceptions to this, but overall, this is the current situation.

Paradoxically, it is my impression that sex plays an even greater role in our lives than we are generally prepared to admit. From puberty onwards, until you are pretty much dead, sexual thoughts and desires dictate a great deal of our behavior. Arguably we talk more about money and material things in general, but I suspect we think more about sex—and may even be more motivated by it. That may sound a surprising statement, but reflect that sex underpins the vast majority of human relationships.

When I used the expression, “pretty much dead,” I was harking back to a woman I helped to nurse when she was dying of cancer several years ago. No, I’m not a nurse, but she needed help. I didn’t even know her that well, but she was a friend of a friend.

Although she was bent and crippled by a particularly aggressive cancer, and physically incapable of sex because she was in so much pain, she got a kick out my seeing her substantially naked (as was sometimes required), told everyone I was her lover (entirely untrue) and said to me as she was dying how sorry she was she hadn’t got me into bed. These were not the last words I expected, let me tell you. She spoke them after she had drunk the lethal dose. She killed herself under Washington State’s Death with Dignity Act on December 22 2010. Sex was on her mind to the very end. She was quite a woman.

It is not so much that we are obsessed with sex. It is more that we are sexual animals, heavily influenced by our sexual wants and needs, so such focus is no more than natural—and, indeed, healthy. It is our dishonesty about it which is unhealthy.

The best window into our sexual reality today is the internet. The sheer scale of sexually oriented websites is hard to grasp—but it is is absolutely vast, and spans the gamut from outright porn, to sexually specific dating sites, to the downright respectable (which come as something of a shock given that hedonism dominates).

Where books are concerned, whether you should put sex in, or not, depends upon the book. Clearly if it’s a math book, a long description of the pleasure of 69 might be unnecessary—even though it might cause increased interest in STEM.

But, I don’t know much about text books (except that they are over-priced) so let me move on to thrillers where I have a certain knowledge and expertise.

The convention, where thrillers are concerned, is to put in a little sex—a few ‘dirty bits’—but not too much—and not to get too graphic. So, for instance, if you want to describe a man going down on a woman (I have a problem spelling words like ‘cunnilingus), you refrain from the fine detail. You don’t described the pleasures of a woman’s sweaty public hair against your character’s cheeks, and how their mutual pleasure is enhanced when he slides his finger into her sphincter. That would, generally speaking, be considered going too far. Yet, that is on the milder side of what people actually do—so I’m far from sure I understand why we shy away from describing the reality. 

Incidentally, why do women shave their public hair? I think it’s incredibly sexy. It’s rather fun to be lost in the forest. It adds texture to the plot, so to speak—and touch is fundamental to sex.

I didn’t fight these restrictions much in the past because I was normally more concerned about other editorial issues. Moreover, my first publisher, Grove Press, asked me to put more sex in rather than take it out. My editor, Rosemarie Morse, phoned me to say she had just had lunch with a girl friend who said she really liked reading a good sex scene early in a book—and could I oblige. Well, apart from the fact that Rosemarie was (and still is) both attractive and delightful, being a gentleman, of course I did. Grove was a small publishing house with a commendable reputation for flying in face of convention, and, as such was atypical.

My relationship with my second publisher—a large traditional house—was very different to the point of being downright hostile, and my freedom to write as I wanted was curtailed.

Now the dead weight of traditional publishers can be bypassed, I have been giving considerable thought to how I want to write about sex in the future.

It can actually be quite a struggle to write a sexually explicit scene. I find it difficult to write as freely as my intellect says I should for a variety of reasons—from our cultural taboos to good old-fashioned embarrassment.  It is hard to go against cultural norms—even if you think they are wrong. Fortunately, I don’t worry at all about what my readers think. Out of over 7,000 fan e-mails, none complained that my sex scenes were too graphic—and they are by conventional thriller standards--and a significant percentage of my readers are women.

I endeavor to overcome my inhibitions because I think sex is integral to the human condition, it can work to enhance the story in a variety of ways, and that we could—and should—get to understand and appreciate it a great deal better than we do.

Instead we have a society which can’t even make its mind up about sex education—but where sexual innuendo permeates just about every facet of commercial life. We seem to be better at making money out of it than incorporating it naturally into our culture.

Here, let me make it clear that when I talk about incorporating more sex into my writing,  I don’t just mean physical sex, but the entire span of emotions, feelings, fears, joys, desires, and sensibilities that accompany it. I tend towards the view that even where a relationship is almost entirely physical, there has to be some emotional involvement as well—albeit inadequate or otherwise conflicted (but maybe I’m being naïve). 

I seem to have a romantic streak which works to inhibit my understanding of just how cold-blooded and uncaring some people can be. I like to think that people connect at some level under almost all circumstances. I also harbor the suspicion that I may be dead wrong on that point.

My general thought is that, as always, the first priority has to be the story—because anything that doesn’t serve the story should not be included—but that, subject to that critical condition (which should be tattooed inside every writer’s eyelids), I should write about sex, and its related feelings, in as much graphic and specific detail as I write about anything else.

For instance, I fail to see why it should be considered more acceptable to describe violence in all its bloody detail—down to the gory effects of explosive rounds on the human body, yet not go to the same kinds of lengths where sex is concerned—whether that sex be straight or gay.

Whether I have the courage to implement my convictions is another matter. Remnants of the culture and standards I grew up with all those decades ago still linger. Though my mother collected men like Hemingway hunted big game—with trophies to match (mostly children instead of mounted heads)—the general culture in the Ireland of the time was that sex hadn’t yet been invented. Immaculate conceptions were all the rage—or maybe babes were flown in by storks.

When I was small I never believed in the stork story. I had been told we don’t have them in Ireland except in the zoo. However, I thought the ‘babies are found under cabbages’ might be a runner. Certainly, we grew a lot of cabbages.

In Ireland, in those days, condoms and all other kind of birth control were illegal; oral sex had the same status as America before Columbus came along; and any books which described sex in any detail at all were banned (which included books by some of Ireland’s most highly esteemed literary figures). Funnily enough, the father of one of the first girls I dated was a judge—and a member of the censorship board—and I noted, with interest, that he kept the books he and his board banned.  

Meanwhile, at boarding school, Catholic guilt was being hammered into me together with the fact that the primary trigger of that powerful force was sex in any form or shape—unless within wedlock, and performed solely for the purposes of procreation.

Portnoy's Complaint by Roth, Philip

Masturbation (the focus of PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT) was regarded as perverse and sinful—and the possibility of a woman masturbating  was never even hinted at. In fact, the idea that women were innately sexual wasn’t even considered. The general concept was that women had to be coaxed into doing something that most regarded as distasteful—but their duty (every full moon or so).

Given my mother’s behavior, I found this viewpoint questionable, but since the consensus was that she was unusual—to put it mildly—I still sort of went with the flow for a time. On the other hand, we had maidservants—single women with needs—and no TV, so after I hit puberty I was soon to discover that my mother was far from being an outlier (merely more zealous and better resourced).

You know there are times I wonder whether education doesn’t do more harm than good. Yes, I know one needs it—and I’ve certainly benefited from it—but I was taught so much that has turned out to be either untrue, or distorted, as well, that it has taken me years to sort it all out. As for organized religion, it really does have a great deal to answer for. It is quite clear that we all have a spiritual dimension—which few of us seem to know how to harness adequately—but which seems to be peculiarly vulnerable to manipulation by charlatans.

I guess we all want to know the meaning of life—and organized religion capitalizes on this universal desire by providing instant answers (supported by no facts at all). It is, so to speak, Fast Food, for the mind—and about as healthy. To avail of it, all you have to do is shut down your ability to think logically and rationally—and substitute faith (belief not based on proof).  That seem to me to be a Faustian bargain if ever there was one.

Free will—reportedly a God-given gift—has to be based upon rational thought otherwise it is not free will.

Since I have known many fine pastors and other men of the cloth who were, and are, members of organized religions, I dislike saying that—but just look at the track record. Throughout history, everywhere organized religion has been ascendant, it has been associated with intolerance, meanness, cruelty, oppression, greed, bigotry, corruption, repression, ignorance, and torture, death and suffering on a massive scale—and, primarily, has been utilized by the powerful as a highly effective tool of social control. What is more, this holds true—in most cases—regardless of the religion.

Christianity's record in this regard is dreadful—and Islam is no better. Only Buddhism emerges with some honor.

The overall point I’m making is that although I try to keep an open mind—and fight hard to be a free thinker—I’m also aware that social pressures and other conditioning over the decades (even where I know it is wrong) has an effect. So I don’t quite know whether I will be able to write quite as candidly about sex as I would like—but I’m going to try. It just feels like the right thing to do. If writing is about illuminating the human condition, then I think sex could do with more light shed on it.

Porn apart—does anyone write candidly about sex at present? Well, there are way too many books out there for me to comment accurately about that, but I’m sure some indie authors do. There is a whole area of erotic romance out here about which I know little (somehow I don’t think the word ‘erotic’ is there by accident). Where traditional publishers are concerned, I doubt it. If I’m doing them an injustice, let me apologize in advance—but, proof first, please.

If I was destined for hell—and could feel the heat of the flames—and a traditional publisher offered me a way out, I suspect I would hesitate. The integrity of traditional publishing is about on a par with Congress.

Maybe I’m being somewhat unfair to Congress.

When it comes to learning about how to write about sex, let me start by repeating the advice I give about learning to write about anything.

Start by reading the masters—and anything else you can find that is remotely relevant. But, read, read, read.

The Gold Standard where sex combined with literature is concerned used to be LADY’S CHATTERLY’S LOVER by D.H Lawrence (a truly excellent writer, by the way) but COUPLES by John Updike could well be a rival. Then, let me recommend my personal favorite, IN PRAISE OF OLDER WOMEN by Stephen Vizinczeylargely, I suspect, because it reflects many of my own experiences. And the, of course, there is THE GRADUATE by Charles Webb and PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT by Philip Roth. Another writer who comes to mind, who is sexually more graphic than most is Ken Follett. He uses sex to great effect in his works—and has sold 130 million books.

If memory serves, LIE DOWN WITH LIONS incorporates a particular  steamy scene involving mutual masturbation.

So what am I forgetting? What else but FIFTY SHADES OF GREY by E L James—which my #1 fan, Deb Waggoner, told me I should read. Deb is a woman of impeccable judgment, so I intend to follow her advice.

A quick aside—though it has been more than 20 years since she first wrote to me, and we have talked quite a few times by phone—we have never met. I find it hard to over-stress how invaluable her support, and those of my other fans, has been, 

The three volumes have sold over 100 million copies—which is a such a staggeringly large number by conventional standards—that it is fairly safe to assume that it has tapped into a nerve.

What is about? According to Wikipedia:

Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic romance novel by British author E. L. James. It is the first installment in the Fifty Shades trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM). Originally self-published as an ebook and a print-on-demand,[1][2] publishing rights were acquired by Vintage Books in March 2012.[3][4]

The second and third volumes, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, were published in 2012. Fifty Shades of Grey has topped best-seller lists around the world, including those of the United Kingdom and the United States.[5][6]The series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide and been translated into 52 languages,[7] and set the record as the fastest-selling paperback of all time.[8] Critical reception of the book, however, has been mixed, with the quality of its prose generally seen as poor. Universal Pictures and Focus Features plan a film adaptation scheduled for a February 13, 2015 release.[9]

What does this suggest? It indicates to me—amongst other things-- that  female sexuality has long been seriously underestimated.

In my opinion, some of the best writing about sex is on the internet by women writing about their own needs and desires. This tends to leave absolutely nothing to the imagination—especially when it is frequently accompanied by a picture of the author in some sexually explicit position—with masturbation being high on the lost.

Either women’s sexual nature has changed a lot since my youth—or I was fed a great deal of hogwash about the fair sex at the time. Either way, at the rate things are going, we males are going to be also-rans when it comes to masturbation. Indeed, at this rate, given that an ever increasing number of women seem to be describing themselves as bi-sexual—and that sex toys are getting better and better—we males may end up being surplus to requirements. I hope that unhappy fate happen after I have made my departure.

Who writes this stuff? Women of all backgrounds and persuasions—though judging by appearances, they tend towards the more affluent (they are certainly not the kind of women who you might expect would be doing this). In short, these are not the outpourings of some sexually deviant fringe, but the thoughts of a wide range of completely normal women taking advantage of the relative anonymity of the internet. Who knew such women would advance their sexuality in such a blatant way—but so many seem to be doing it, that before too long, it will probably be mainstream

There is a raw honesty about all this which is really quite touching—and which suggests that we men aren’t doing a particularly good job at keeping our women satisfied.

Perhaps this is not surprising—because we come back to the fact that sex is not discussed in the specific way it needs to be. As a consequence, ignorance abounds—particularly amongst men. We tend to be a one shot deal in bed—targeting orgasm with male efficiency—whereas women have more complex needs.

Actually, so do men, in my opinion.

Reading apart, I can’t help but conclude that if you are going to write convincingly about sex, you should have experience of the real thing—and preferably a great deal of it. However, here I find myself up against a fundamental problem. I certainly have enough experience to write about sex from a man’s point of view—and I have in a number of books—but I am far from convinced that I understand women’s sexuality adequately—even after considerable field work (for want of a better phrase). It’s just not something that someone with my background tended to discuss in the kind of explicit intimate details that I now feel is required. Here, I am less concerned about the physical aspect—though I’m sure I have much to learn there too--than about the emotional.

We’re back to something that strikes me with ever more force the more I think about it—the extraordinary fact that no one (no matter how intimate) ever really knows what another person is thinking. You know what they say and what they do—and you can read their body language—but there it stops.

As a writer, I find that somewhat frustrating because, when it comes to sex, I would really, madly, and deeply like to be able to describe matters accurately from a woman’s perspective.

It is my impression that the internet has brought something of  a revolution to women’s sexuality—a revolution which is still a work in progress, and which is likely to have profound consequences

It is empowering women sexually. It has provided a forum for women to write explicitly about their needs; it has made erotic communication much easier; it has made it easier to have de facto affairs via cybersex on a virtually risk free basis; and hook-up sites have made the arranging of real sex relatively straightforward. In fact, I think there are even some Apps which make the whole process even easier.

In addition, electronic communication has enabled vastly more women to share their thoughts with relative ease –and has undoubtedly fostered a new normal where a woman’s desires are concerned. Examples of this can be seen in profusion on the internet, but perhaps the most explicit example concerns an organization called One Taste

One Taste advocates ‘orgasmic meditation.’ Here is Wikipedia on the subject.

In press accounts, orgasmic meditation has been compared to tantric practices. "The idea, similar to Buddhist Tantric sex, is to extend the sensory peak."[1] Daedone (the founder) has stated in interviews that OMing also borrows from other traditions including yoga, and other forms of meditation,[7] and she describes it as a central element of what she terms the "Slow Sex Movement".[4][8]

She states that OMing brings consciousness to sexuality in the same way that sitting meditation brings consciousness to stillness and yoga brings consciousness to movement.[7] Proponents maintain that the practice leads to more intense and profound orgasms,[5] expands one's capacity to feel pleasure and other sensations, and promotes greater personal awareness and interpersonal connectivity.[1] Others describe more limited effects, such as simply "getting in touch with one's body."[9] Some who have participated in or witnessed the practice report feeling a sense of discomfort or inappropriateness. "I tried with great futility to make the connection between an austere Zen monastery filled with silent monks meditating on emptiness, and what I had just seen."[10]

The practice of orgasmic meditation is done with a partner. One person lies down, unclothed from the waist down, while her partner sits alongside. The one sitting uses his or her index finger to slowly, deliberately stroke the clitoris and genitals of the other. Typically this safe sex practice involves the wearing of gloves.

The session lasts for 15 minutes and is timed precisely. Both partners focus their attention on the point of contact or stroke, simply feeling the sensation that is present.[11] If the mind drifts, attention is brought back to the point of contact and immediate sensations. Practitioners of orgasmic meditation maintain that the practice nourishes the limbic system, the part of the brain shared with other mammals and associated with emotion, empathy, and motivation.[4] When the OMing session is over, both partners share their experiences verbally.[1][6]

OMing requires a partner, and so is distinct from masturbation, for two reasons. First, the voluntary mind must be given a rest, surrendering to the experience rather than seeking to produce the desired sensations. Secondly, the resonance between two partners is essential to the experience of shared sensation.[12] OM is usually practiced separately from sex and often in a location other than the bedroom; as distinct from foreplay, Daedone describes it as a practice "designed to keep a woman on a plateau of sensation." A visiting UK columnist surmised that "OM is a form of recalibration that prepares the body for better, more intense sex."[13]

Just in case the significance of the above hasn’t hit home—and it really needs to—let me introduce you to www.ashleymadison.com a site set up specifically to promote affairs. It proudly boasts that a new woman joins ashleymadison—to have a discreet affair—every sixty seconds. That works out at over half a million a year—and that is just one site out of an endless number. Men have let women down—and  there are consequences.

Do I think all this is a good thing? Well, it is scarcely going to make relationships more secure—given the virtual availability of infidelity on demand—but, overall, I think it is a very good thing.

To be frank, I don’t believe that even now—despite considerable progress—that women are treated properly in our society. They are paid less (77 cents to a male dollar); are under-represented in politics and in business management; work harder; and get more of a a raw deal in the bedroom than they deserve (though they seem to be increasingly able to remedy that particular deficiency without male help).

Given all that, I believe women deserve all the empowerment that they can get—and if we writers can help a little, then I think we should.

Besides, if women are happier, it is absolutely certain that we males will be too. More than we deserve perhaps?

Women are kind of special (though I can think of a few exceptions). Such is the human condition.

Interesting how often Buddhism comes up—invariably in a favorable context. And I could say much the same about Tantric Sex.

VOR words 4,040

Every now and then I seem to be compelled towards the longer form—and this is one such result. I actually wrote it some months ago—but misfiled it. It turned up today—so here it is.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

(#59-1) November 29 2014. When it comes to startups, the ‘can-do nation’ is doing less and less.

AMERICAN ENTREPRENEURSHIP

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

IT’S IN STEADY DECLINE—AND, ONCE AGAIN, THERE IS LITTLE GENERAL CONCERN. ODD—OR WORRYING?

I am’ constantly struck by the failure of the U.S. public to react to the most disturbing economic news—even when the underlying trends are at least as disastrous in their implications as the incident itself. Meanwhile, the media get whipped up into a frenzy over such matters as Ebola or Ferguson. Both the latter certainly deserve attention, but not to the point where they distract from matters of extraordinary significance to people’s economic health.

Let me give a contrast to help illustrate my point. If something fundamental—like the retirement age—is threatened in France or Ruritania (for instance), people will be out in the streets demonstrating in no time at all, and in politically significant numbers.

Not in the U.S.. Somehow, adequate knowledge of the issues, concern, and appropriate outrage seem to be in short supply here. This means that the movers and shakers can do virtually anything here—like buy the election results—without there being either a reaction or consequences. 

Americans seem to be politically supine to an extent which is decidedly unhealthy—at least from the point of view of democracy. The talent is there—we have plenty of highly articulate analytical people—but the concern doesn’t seem to be (or, if it is, it isn’t coalescing into political effective form—which may be more to the point).

Why is this?

  • The failure of the media which most Americans get their news from—TV news—to do an adequate job. The U.S. does, in fact, possess some truly excellent journalists, but they are largely concentrated in media—read, watched, or listened-to—by only a minority of people. Where the mass media are concerned, the view seems to be that Americans are incapable of understanding either complexity or nuance—and merely want to be entertained.  The danger of such a view is that it becomes self-fulfilling.
  • The success of a long propaganda campaign to disillusion, distract, and manipulate the American voter. The decline of trust in most institutions since the Seventies is quite dramatic—and is not an accident.
  • The inadequacies of the educational system to educate people beyond their prejudices.
  • The failure of the Democratic Party—in particular to evolve, and communicate, a coherent progressive message.
  • The near destruction of the trade union movement. Trade unions—like all human institutions—can have their faults, but they are just about the only counterbalance to corporate power there is. Trade unions have also been responsible for most of the gains made by American workers—like the 40 hour week.
  • The systematic conversion of a significant minority of the population into a non-voting semi criminalized underclass (which largely does not vote).
  • A well justified fear of the consequences—losing one’s job (and thus so many other things) in particular. You can pay a high price in this Land of the Free for speaking out.  

The decline of startups means that more and more of the economy is being controlled by major corporations (not to be confused with local businesses). Thanks to a long term trend towards concentration—mostly by way of mergers and acquisitions backed by financial corporations, this corporatized economy is dominated by a small number of large corporations in almost every market sector.  

Subject to some notable exceptions (there are some excellent corporations out there) large U.S. corporations, operating in a semi-monopoly environment, have a miserable track record in terms of customer value and service, treatment of their employees, customers and suppliers, concern for both community and national interests—and, above all, in terms of job creation and innovation. Recall the mass panic of the recent Great Recession which resulted in the arbitrary laying of of millions of workers—largely without either notice or compensation—and contrast it with German industry’s widespread employment of job-sharing.

But that is what we largely have already—and we are heading towards more of it in the future.

This does not augur well.

VOR words 590.


Friday, November 28, 2014

(#59-1) November 29 2014. When it comes to startups, the ‘can-do nation’ is doing less and less.

AMERICAN ENTREPRENEURSHIP

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

IT’S IN STEADY DECLINE—AND, ONCE AGAIN, THERE IS LITTLE GENERAL CONCERN

I am’ constantly struck by the failure of the U.S. public to react to the most disturbing economic news—even when the underlying trends are at least as disastrous in their implications as the incident itself. Meanwhile, the media get whipped up into a frenzy over such matters as Ebola or Ferguson. Both the latter certainly deserve attention, but not to the point where they distract from matters of extraordinary significance to people’s economic health.

Let me give a contrast to help illustrate my point. If something fundamental –like the retirement age—is threatened in France (for instance), people will be out in the streets demonstrating in no time at all, and in politically significant numbers.

Somehow, adequate knowledge of the issues, concern, and outrage seem to be in short supply here. This means that the movers and shakers can do virtually anything here—like buy the election results—without there being either a reaction or consequences. 

Americans seem to be politically supine to an extent which is decidedly unhealthy—at least from the point of view of democracy.

Why is this?

  • The failure of the media most Americans get their news from—TV news—to do an adequate job.
  • The success of a long propaganda campaign to disillusion, distract, and manipulate the American voter.
  • The inadequacies of the educational system to educate people beyond their prejudices.
  • The failure of the Democratic Party—in particular to evolve, and communicate, a coherent progressive message.
  • The near destruction of the trade union movement.
  • The systematic conversion of a significant minority of the population into a non-voting semi criminalized underclass (which largely does not vote).
  • Fear of the consequences—losing one’s job (and thus so many other things) in particular.

The decline of startups means that more and more of the economy is being controlled by corporations. Thanks to a long term trend towards concentration—largely by way of mergers and acquisitions backed by financial corporations, this corporatized economy is dominated by a small number of large corporations in almost every market sector.

Large U.S. corporations, operating in a semi-monopoly environment, have a miserable track record in terms of customer value and service, treatment of their employees, customers and suppliers, concern for both community and national interests—and, above all, in terms of job creation and innovation. Recall the mass panic of the recent Great Recession which resulted in the arbitrary laying of of millions of workers—largely without either notice or compensation—and contrast it with German industry’s widespread employment of job-sharing.

But that is what we largely have already—and we are heading towards more of it in the future.

This does not augur well.

VOR words 413


(#58-1) November 28 2014. Flying is a many splendored thing—especially if you have three wings

YET ANOTHER OFF-THE-WALL AIRCRAFT PROJECT

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

I LOVE THIS STUFF

The Faradair BEHA concept is intended to be one of the world’s quietest, most efficient an...

THE FARADAIR BEHA CONCEPT

‘BEHA = BIO-ELECTRIC-HYBRID-AIRCRAFT’

I am not a scientist—rocket or otherwise—but I love technology, and have been involved (one way or another) in a number of fascinating technology oriented developments (space related and otherwise—including helicopters and armored vehicles).

We thriller writers get around.

I take the view that creativity is not—and should not be—limited to the arts, so a writer and generalist, like myself, should stretch his brain a little from time to time by becoming involved with projects that are really beyond his technical competence.

Besides, you don’t necessarily need to be technical to evolve a better way of doing things (though you normally do to implement). Sometimes, if you understand the principles, and have perspective, you can make a contribution. Given the chance, the human brain is amazingly versatile.

In that spirit, I have long wondered whether there still isn’t some mileage in bi-planes. Yes, I know that the extra wing imposes a vicious amount of drag, but the extra lift you get is phenomenal. As a consequence, you can take off and land in very short spaces, and you can lift a great deal—providing you are not after speed.

DH 82A Tiger Moth - N81DH.jpgI well recall seeing a bi-plane, a Tiger Moth (see picture), both land and takeoff in well under half of a rugby pitch when I was at school—something I would have said was impossible if I hadn’t witnessed it.

The full size of a rugby pitch—in case you are dead keen to know—is 133.4 x 74.3 yards. It landed and took off diagonally but I doubt more than 70 yards was involved.

A Tiger Moth’s stall speed can be as slow as 25 knots. That extra wing makes quite a difference.

By the way, a staggering 8,868 were built. It was a very neat, and flyable, aircraft—and deservedly popular as a trainer. Fast, it was not. Primarily is was flown around 100 knots.

Well, we tend to associate flying with speed, but it is not always a requirement. For instance, if you want to do surveillance, it can be quite handy to patrol very slowly—much as a helicopter can do, but at a fraction of the cost—and more safely. Alternatively, because you aren’t road bound, and can fly in a straight line, you can often get to a location much faster than a ground vehicle even if your flying speed is quite modest.

Bi-planes apart, other minor obsessions of mine are hybrid electric aircraft—which are long overdue, in my opinion—and greater use of electric motors in aviation.

Faradair have gone one better than a biplane. They are proposing a triple box-wing design—three wings. Let me quote from that wonderful site www.gizmag.com:

Touted as the world's first true hybrid aircraft, the Faradair BEHA (Bio-Electric-Hybrid-Aircraft) is a triple box-wing design concept that combines electric motors and a bio-diesel engine. Fitted with a range of energy conservation and recovery technologies, including solar panels on all flight surfaces and high-lift, low-speed flight capabilities, the BEHA is intended to be one of the world’s most environmentally friendly aircraft.

Aimed at the traditional multi-role light aircraft market, the BEHA concept is premised for a range of operations with lower cost overheads and minimal environmental effect. Included in a potential list of users are those who are engaged in inter-city travel, operate flight schools, run observation and emergency services, or simply want a low running cost aircraft for recreational use.

To this end, the designers of the BEHA claim that their concept electric design offers true "hybrid" dual-fuel capability with a combined bio-diesel/electric propulsion combination that will put it into a different league from currently available electric aircraft, by no longer requiring ground-based recharging. As such, it is intended that the Faradair craft also employ such energy recovery technologies as all flight surfaces being skinned with solar panels, along with wind-turbine technology to allow battery-charging for the vehicle whilst it is in-flight or on the ground.

The plan is to equip the BEHA concept with twin electric fan motors (from the company's renderings, somewhat similar in appearance to those used on the recently flown Airbus E-Fan electric aircraft) that deliver some 200 hp (150 kW) each, in combination with a similarly powerful bio-diesel generator incorporating a ducted pusher propeller. Designed to take off and land using electric power, the bio-diesel engine is intended to recharge the batteries whilst the craft is cruising to increase the overall performance and flying time.

"Markets will be opened up as this lightweight, state-of-the-art, carbon fiber, high-lift designed aircraft will negate night flight restrictions and pollution concerns," says Neil Cloughley, Managing Director of Faradair Aerospace Limited. "Its truly radical and futuristic design aims to follow in the footsteps of other great aviation achievements by becoming a game changing aircraft that helps transform aviation as we know it today."

Solar panels are on the topside of all lifting surfaces (Image: Faradair)

"This aircraft will be one of the most eco-friendly and safest aircraft in the world, costing somewhere close to $1m US Dollars per aircraft," says Cloughley. "Plus our production facility will be equally environmentally focused."

Recently launched on Kickstarter, the company intends to spend the next 12 months through 2015 on Research and Development, with a specific aim to complete specifications and fabrication of prototype parts, provided its £20,000 Kickstarter aspirations are met.

The video below shows the company's Kickstarter pitch and some animations of the concept.

Source: Faradair

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

(#57-1) November 27 2014. Because of my Anglo-Irish background, I tend to think of Christmas as the ultimate feast day—but Thanksgiving is growing on me.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYBODY!

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THANKS TO YOU, MY FRIENDS, I HAVE MUCH REASONS TO GIVE THANKS. I CONSIDER MYSELF AN EXCEPTIONALLY FORTUNATE MAN.

I WILL ALSO REPEAT SOMETHING THAT I HAVE BECOME TO BELIEVE IN ABSOLUTELY—NO ONE EVER ACHIEVES ANYTHING WORTHWHILE ALONE. THERE IS ALWAYS AT LEAST ONE OTHER PERSON HELPING—EVEN IF SOLELY IN INTANGIBLE WAYS.

AN AUTHOR MAY WRITE ALONE, BUT THAT IS NOT THE SAME THING AS BEING ALONE

If my current project succeeds—and it is really a series of inter-related projects—it will not only be the hardest thing I have ever done, but only have reached a desirable outcome because of the help of quite a number of people. In most cases, this help hasn’t been massive—but it has certainly been timely—and is deeply appreciated. In particular, I have been subject to much generosity recently, so today seems an excellent day to say, ‘Thanks’ yet again—and from the bottom of my heart.

Given that I live a fairly solitary life—I write alone as you surely know—I am surprised I have as many friends as I do; but I do, and I value you—and them—greatly.

It is also a good time to give thanks to my friends who have died. Too many have.

To say one builds on the shoulders of giants is something of a cliché—though very true. Still, though the sentiment is clear, it evokes a rather strange mental picture.

Let me compound the problem. I write on the shoulders of my friends.

Thank you.

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(#57-2) November 27 2014. Thanksgiving—what a good idea!

THE TROUBLE WITH BEING A PHOTOGRAPHER IS THAT GOOD PHOTOS OF YOU TEND TO BE HARD TO FIND

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AT LAST A PRETTY GOOD PHOTOGRAPH OF MY SISTER LUCY—AN EXCEPTIONALLY TALENTED PHOTOGRAPHER—AND HER DAUGHTER, FAITH.

YES, THEY ARE A DECIDEDLY  ATTRACTIVE PAIR—AND I AM APPROPRIATELY PROUD OF THEM (AND OF LUCY’S OTHER FOUR CHILDREN).

LUCY IS ON THE LEFT IN SUNGLASSES.

I am the eldest of 12—five fathers were involved—and have written often of my own rather traumatic upbringing. I was abused both physically and mentally, packed off to a boarding school at the age of five—where, being younger and smaller than everyone else, I was bullied for years—and typically sent off to stay with my grandmother (whom I loved dearly) or a pair of aunts during two out of the three annual vacations.

Though I had a home, I rarely saw it—and when I was there, I primarily interacted with the staff. We routinely had two maids and a full-time gardener in those days—at one stage topped up with a butler and house boy. None of them, sad to say, was overly bright, and I was so badly fed when I was a toddler that I got rickets. That is a condition that results from a severe nutritional deficiency—not something that should happen to a child coming from a wealthy, upper-class family.

Meanwhile, my mother lived an almost entirely separate life focused around her drawing room, dining-room, bedroom—social life and lovers. She never had a job. She wrote, but primarily she painted.

The lover I remember best was an Austrian count, Count Taaffe, whose father had twice been prime minister to Emperor Franz Joseph of the Austro-Hungarian empire. I didn’t really believe this until years later I went to see the movie, MAYERLING, where the villain of the piece was a Count Taaffe—acted by James Mason. Mother had a weakness for counts, eventually married a Polish count, and died a countess. My brother Rex’s father was an Austrian count.

That adds up to three that I can remember—but who’s counting!

Later, after we moved house to an even larger dwelling, she added a second drawing room and a studio to her private domain. We children were the responsibility of the servants, and rarely seen by her except for a few minutes before going to bed.

All in all, the first nine years of my life were—by any standards—appallingly difficult—and were characterized by a truly lousy relationship with my charismatic, but dangerously unpredictable, and emotionally unstable, mother. In sum, she was an only child, and entirely clueless about how to handle a boy—so resorted to violence at the slightest provocation (real or imagined). She also had a dominant personality and was highly articulate so she could wound with a sentence. There were no limits to what she would say to achieve such an objective. She could be a frighteningly cruel woman—and excelled at destroying one’s confidence. Few could stand up to her.

Having a thoroughly miserable childhood isn’t all bad because somehow it seems to set one up for a creative life in a way that emotional stability does not. Why is this? I don’t really know, but if you talk to enough creative people, you will soon find that many of us share that background. In my case, I am extremely empathetic and sensitive to atmosphere—and equally observant—characteristics that were undoubtedly fostered by my being in harms way so often. They are invaluable when it comes to writing. The more you sense, observe, and experience, the more you have to write about.

They say that if you are to remain emotionally sane, all you really need is for one person to love you. In my case, that was my grandmother, Vida Lentaigne, a remarkable woman by any standards, whom I miss every day. Granny kept me, more or less, sane.

I don’t want to overdo my claims to sanity because those early years certainly left their scars—and were, at times, pretty terrible.

But enough of such gloom. As we writers like to say, “It’s all material,” and the good news is that my mother mellowed over the decades to the point where the youngest member of the family, Lucy (pictured above) is not just sane, and remarkably well balanced, but has raised her five children to be of similar caliber.

Lucy, the youngest, is now the matriarch of the family—and we are lucky to have her.

Thanksgiving seems like a good day to acknowledge, yet again, that pleasing fact.

VOR words 753


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

(#56-1) November 26 2014. The ‘we have only one earth, and we are doing it a lot of damage’ department.

ENVIRONMENTAL STUFF

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AND IT SEEMS HIGHLY LIKELY THAT WE ARE DOING NO END OF DAMAGE TO OURSELVES THROUGH PRODUCING FOOD BY WAY OF MONOCULTURE AND GLYPHOSATE

I don’t regard myself as an obsessive environmentalist—but it seems to me that we should take a great deal more care of this earth of ours than we do. After all, it is the only one we have—and if we do screw it up, we’ll all die—and probably rather unpleasantly. Best avoided, don’t you think?

There is a whole group of people—mainly Right Wingers—who seem to think that the earth is so robust we can do what we like to it and it will recover. Why do they think that? It suits them politically. It’s all apiece of belittling government, opposing all regulations, and arguing that corporations should be allowed to do pretty much anything—with  competition being the only discipline.

Only there have been so many mergers and acquisitions that in many business sectors there isn’t much competition left.

The evidence is almost completely against such an attitude, but since such people don’t believe in evidence, they don’t either change their minds or moderate their opinions.

Since one cannot fight all the battles—and ‘environment’ covers so much—though I follow developments overall, I have tended to confine my focus to sustainable energy and the food chain. Here, since sustainable energy really does seem to be making amazing progress, my main area of concern is the food chain.

We seem to be doing bad things to the land through monoculture, and our industrial approach to farming generally, so are producing foodstuffs which look great, but which are substantially less nutritious than their predecessors. Frankly, that is serious enough in itself—but the possibility that Monsanto’s glyphosate is damaging to our health (and there is increasing evidence to that effect) is truly scary because glyphosate is pervasive and so extremely hard to avoid. If you haven’t heard of glyphosate, it is better known as Roundup. It is used just about everywhere for weed control. If is conclusively proved to be harmful to our health, we will have a nightmare of a problem on our hands. It will mean we have been poisoning ourselves for years. 

The argument that is constantly pounded in to us is that industrial farming, even if one does accept the disadvantages (and many do not)  is the only alternative to expensive food and widespread food shortages.

It is a compelling argument—and widely believed. But is it true? I have long wondered about it, but never did the necessary research because—as mentioned previously—although I am a concerned citizen, this sector is not one I focus on primarily. Nonetheless, every now and then I would run across a mention that suggested that monoculture is not the only way to go—and that other approaches may, in fact, not only be more sustainable, but be more productive. In short, given the same amount of land and water, alternative approaches could produce more in terms of both quantity and quality—and at lower cost. They also result in much healthier soil.

A recent article in truthout.com quotes two major reports—one coming from the UN and the other from the Rodale Institute validating the alternative approach. Contrary to what Monsanto likes to argue, we can produce sufficient quantities of food by way of organic farming.

If that is the case, we are enduring the considerable negative consequences of industrial agriculture for no good reason. You also have to wonder why there is virtually no discussion about a matter which directly affects the health of over 320 million Americans—not to mention millions more abroad.

Right now, industrial farming based upon monoculture—combined with CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) and extensive fracking—is producing:

  • Exhausted soil
  • Weeds that are increasingly glyphosate resistant.
  • Massive contamination of our rivers, lakes, and the oceans
  • Less nutritious food.
  • Food contaminated by glyphosate
  • Food contaminated by other pesticides and herbicides.
  • Food contaminated by fracking chemicals.
  • Massive abuse of animals.
  • Meat contaminated by antibiotics fed to animal to counter the negative effects of CAFOs.

Americans live sicker and die several years sooner than the citizens of most other developed nations.

Food for thought—no pun intended.

VOR words c. 641


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

(#55-1) November 25 2014.

STUFF I THINK ABOUT FROM TIME TO TIME

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IS WHAT I READ OF ANY USE—OR AM I JUST STUDYING FOR FUN?

I spend a formidable amount of time researching matters that interest me—and sometimes feel quite guilty about it. Shouldn’t I be writing instead? Am I researching the right things? What’s the point of all this work?

I don’t think too much about the last concern. Given that we end up dead just about everything we do might be considered pointless. On the other hand there is always “meanwhile”—a word I’m particularly fond of (as I think I remarked previously). Life is really about “meanwhile”—which is fine by me.

In fact my research is relatively disciplined though I certainly don’t confine it to the specifics required for a single book. Instead, I like to keep well informed about whole sectors from which I draw detail as and when required—and, of course, sometimes zero in on detail and focus only on that. I hold to the view that knowing the context in some depth increases a writer’s confidence and influences the writing even if much that the writer knows is not used directly. It enhances both authority and credibility.

My main areas of interest are:

  • Military matters—and the U.S. Army in particular. This interest has its roots in my being a war baby and then reading adventure stories—starting when I was about 9. That means I have been studying the military, one way or another, for 61 years. Ye gods! That’s a rather sobering thought. I have also spent time with units, lived with terrorism within easy commuting distance, had the dubious privilege of being under fire, been nearly killed on more than a few occasions, and had more fun in the field than I probably deserve (and been injured).  Do I know enough? Hell, no—but I know a lot. I also hold soldiers in high regard. I just wish the end result wasn’t breaking things and killing people. But, I suppress my qualms and write about this stuff because it fascinates me—and although war is a manifestation of man at his worst, it can also bring out the best in people. I am particularly interested in how to fight smarter—and thus in special forces and irregular warfare. But, if you read my books, you will know that already.
  • How countries work—or don’t. In the past I have tended to say that I study the economy (which is true) but actually what I am really trying to do is find out what are the elements which make some countries work, and be successful, while other nations remain mired in poverty, or are just plain stuck. This interest has its roots in my growing up in a very dysfunctional and poverty-stricken Ireland where unemployment hovered around 20 percent—and which seemed to be permanently doomed to be an economic failure. A relatively small group of us thought otherwise, and lobbied hard in the early Eighties to change the system (the task looked impossible) and, amazingly we did (though I paid a high price). That success—albeit in a tiny country—has persuaded me that systems can be changed (regardless of the odds) so now my focus is the U.S. Can its decline be reversed? Absolutely—though it might help if more people knew that we are in such trouble. But, I remain an optimist, and don’t accept the much used argument that the U.S. is too big to govern. I also have a Masters in Economics which gives me a useful base of knowledge. This area has been an interest since I was 16 so I have been at it for 54 years. Wow!
  • Creativity, Technology, and Innovation.  The way my mind works, I can scarcely look at anything without wondering how to improve it, so I am forever attracted by human creativity and ingenuity—particularly where it solves some fundamental problem like housing. Here, I suffer from the fact that I am not technical. On the other hand, I am now widely read enough to be able to make sense of most things—even if only in a non-technical way. Normally, I am content enough if I can master the gist of things. I leave detailed scientific expertise to the experts.
  • Computers, Software, and Personal Productivity. Here, I am hampered by the fact that not only do I have no natural talent for this area, but also also I have never received any formal training in any aspect. Nonetheless, I see this field as a giant lever for my mind (and a compensation for its inadequacies) and devote serious time to it in the hopes of being more productive. Despite having had more failures and disasters than I really care to think about (the early days of Windows were truly horrendous) I do seem finally to be getting somewhere. Given that I have had a computer full time since 1986, I should damn well hope so! I experimented with computers as early as 1981 and even had a Next at one stage. All in all, it has been quite a saga—some 33 years if I start in ‘81. Frankly, by this stage, I though a rock solid operating system would have emerged—but, if it has, no one has told me about it—and Windows 8.1 certainly isn’t it. Still, for all the headaches, I owe a great deal to computers and their associated software—and certainly couldn’t cover the ground I do without both them and the internet. On that basis, I feel a singularly lucky man.

On the face of military matters and the economy seem to be entirely unrelated, but I hold to the view that not only are they connected, but that military costs should receive a great deal more attention than they do. For instance, where the U.S. is concerned, we have evolved the most costly way of war yet devised in human history, yet it is highly questionable whether it is the most effective.

Be that as it may, recent developments seem to indicate that I haven’t been wasting my time and that all my research will be relevant—and will be put to productive use in some multimedia form. My conscience is assuaged. It appears I haven’t been wasting my time.

Note that I said multimedia. Interesting!

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Monday, November 24, 2014

(#54-1) November 24 2014. This English expression seems to fit. “There is nowt (nothing) so daft as folks.”

SOME CALL IT ‘SOCIAL GLUE’

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THOUGHTS ON OUR FADING FAITH IN U.S. INSTITUTIONS

Gallup: confidence in institutions

For any society to function effectively, you need a considerable amount of trust. Rules, regulations, and the legal system can only take you so far. Anyway, any society where behavior is that tightly controlled is invariably oppressive and unpleasant to live in. There are so many variations in human behavior and circumstances that you need both flexibility and tolerance to be integral to the the culture—or to put matters another way, common human decency is a must if the business of daily life is to be tolerable.

Trust is the great enabler, and its decline is a case of concern. Because it is an intangible, and we tend to take it for granted, we don’t seem to talk about trust much—but perhaps we have reached the stage where we should. In more than a few cases, public trust in some of our institutions has sunk so low that it is impeding both their functionality—and our way of life.

Public trust has deteriorated to the extent it has for these main reasons:

The performance of the institution—or group of institutions in question. Here, Big Business is a perfect example of a sector which is deservedly held in low esteem. It has violated its social contract in numerous ways, seems to operate without a moral code, and no longer appears to have any regard for the society which allows it to function. Its offenses include overpaying its CEOs, avoiding taxes, financial engineering, exporting jobs by the million, largely removing job security, failure to implement working conditions which are the norm in other developed countries, failure to invest, the arbitrary closure of plants to the detriment of local communities, and massive destruction of the environment. In addition, you can add in numerous ways in which Big Business makes dealing with it unpleasant. These span the gamut from secrecy to quality deficiencies to deceptive practices to rigging the legal system to give it special favors.

Are there exceptions to this rather grim picture? Of course there are. There are many fine companies out there who do an excellent job, look after their employees well, and do a great deal of good for their communities. Nonetheless, it is hard not to have the feeling that they are in a minority. Accordingly, Gallup’s finding that only 21% of people have a great deal of confidence in Big Business seems reasonable.

The second main reason why trust has deteriorated is that there has been a deliberate campaign to undermine trust in government operating since the early Seventies. This has been operated by Right Wing interests for political reasons—and specifically to keep taxes on the rich and on Big Business down—and has been highly successful. It advances the argument that government is inherently less efficient at doing just about anything than the private sector—and therefore the less of it we have the better. The trouble is that the evidence does not support that. Also, there many things which are near impossible to achieve without society cooperating—and the manifestation of such cooperation is government.

Here, I don’t pretend that government is blameless, but merely make the point that government can be highly effective—and is right now in some other countries. In short, the issues of concern should be the caliber of the people in government together with their policies—as opposed to government itself. A further point is that if the proposed alternative to government is Big Business—which is what is normally suggested—one has to wonder on what grounds it should be considered superior.

The third main reason why people’s trust is in decline is because the economic health of most Americans has been slowly deteriorating since the Seventies. For several decades this degradation was scarcely noticed, but the Great Recession and its aftermath have shaken people to the core—and it is now fairly clear that this widespread economic insecurity is contributing to the general sourness that people feel.

A fourth main reason why people are losing faith in U.S institutions has to do with the fact that a great many members of the public are either under-informed or misinformed—and, as such, prone to rely more on prejudice than rational analysis. This relatively high level of ignorance exists for a host of reasons stretching from our inadequate education system to the poor quality of news coverage on national TV, and its effect is significant.

It would be hard to find a better example of widespread ignorance than the high regard in which people people hold the military. Here, no less than 74% of people have a great deal of confidence in it—without making any distinction between the soldiers who do the fighting—and deserve all the support they can get—and the MICC (Military Industrial Congressional Complex) which is deeply corrupt  and operates far more for the benefit of its members than the nation as a whole.

It could well be that the problem here lies far more with the question than anything else—in this specific case—but I hold to the view that blind support of the military, without knowing something of the details, is exceedingly dangerous.

It means that:

  • We spend an excessive amount of money on defense without there being any full accountability.
  • It encourages a culture in the MICC where corruption is the norm.
  • It means we embark on wars which again and again we fail to win—at vast cost in blood and treasure.

A supreme irony in relation to our high regard for both the military and police is that both are government institutions. In fact, the military in particular, are run by that very same Federal Government which so many of us profess to despise.

As for the fact that only 7% of people have confidence in Congress, I guess that figure speaks for itself.

VOR words 975


Sunday, November 23, 2014

(#53-1) November 23 2014 The Social Media are a communications phenomenon which we still don’t seem to know how to use to society’s advantage.

THOUGHTS ON SOCIAL MEDIA

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GIVEN ‘THE WISDOM OF CROWDS,’ HAS IT MADE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE?

I have every reason to be grateful to social media, because without e-mail (which I guess can be so classified) I might well have given up writing. Traditional publishers are notoriously bad at passing on fan mail and it wasn’t until my third book—and only the paperback edition of that – that I asked for my e-mail address to be inserted. Up until then, despite having written a Best Seller, I had received almost no mail from readers—and I was somewhat disconcerted.

Either my writing was not resonating with readers—or my publisher was not forwarding my mail. After I found some mail addressed to me in my editor’s office—stuffed some place out of mind—I began to suspect the latter. Later I heard from writer friends that they had experienced the same thing—and that such neglect (part of a much greater pattern of indifference) was commonplace.

Why have traditional publishers treated so many so many of their authors so badly for so long? Because they could. They had the power—and there was always another writer waiting in line. A second reason is that the profit motive is not necessarily conducive to good behavior. I hope this doesn’t come as a shock to you, but business is not synonymous with either honesty or manners. When you think about it, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Historically, if you wanted to get a little richer, you just went and grabbed it (“it” being gold, your neighbor’s wife, land, whatever). Despite the form being modified, the substance hasn’t changed that much—and neither has human nature.

I wrote that traditional publishers “had the power”—the past tense—because whether they are still in the same position of strength that they were is a moot point. On the face of it, they have been weakened by the fact that publishing independently is now a practical proposition. On the other hand, traditional publishers have the vast financial resources to dominate—whereas self-published writers, by and large, do not. But, at least traditional publishing is no longer the monopoly it once was—and new forms of publishing will emerge. Cooperation by groups of indies seems to be to me to be the most attractive route. But almost anything would be better than the dominance of publishing by a handful of large corporate entities.

I worry greatly about the dominance of our society by large corporate entities—particularly because they are not delivering the economic prosperity for most Americans they have long promised. They have now worked out how to skim the cream—so to speak—but let the rest go sour. Hence we have booming corporate profits—and a seemingly ever rising  stock market—but the earnings of most Americans are in decline. Is there a national outcry over this (and there certainly should be)? No. Our movers, shakers, and the media they own avoid such issues like the plague—and voters largely don’t vote. 

After my e-mail address appeared, a deluge of fan mail resulted—many thousands (and climbing)—which persuaded me that I should hang in there—and I have. I give thanks every day for that fact—and I hold my fans in very high regard (none more so than my #1 fan—and very special friend, Deb Wagoner). I should add that most of my readers, whom I have got to know personally, have become friends. Clearly, I have a high class of reader!

I regard it as a great and wonderful thing to be able to communicate with my readers directly—and vice versa—but I also have to say that e-mail is the greatest distraction from serious writing yet invented. Hell, it is the greatest distraction from just about anything. It’s a time sink. Does the good outweigh the bad? I think it does, but it is finely balanced.

Blogging is another matter. I would like to say that I took to it immediately, but the opposite was the case. Also, I read some very bad blogs early on which doubtless colored my views.

A core problem was that I had great difficulty blogging myself. I had trained myself to write books—and mostly fiction at that—so couldn’t quite see where writing about myself entered the picture (and many of the early blogs I read were highly personal). One the other hand, I could see that my readers could well be interested—particularly about my writing progress. Unfortunately, writing about a book before it is finished violates my writer’s superstition that a book in progress shouldn’t be talked about.

What to do? Nothing wasn’t an option for two reasons: Firstly, a writer needs every exposure to the marketplace he can get. Secondly, my good friend, Tim Roderick, kept urging me (in the nicest possible way). Tim is a former Apache AH-64 attack helicopter pilot and a decorated gunship pilot—and is nothing if not persistent. I was outgunned.

I finally decided to blog without planning—to make the whole thing an exercise in spontaneity—and to write about whatever came to mind regardless of whether it concerned me, my writing, or not.

Since I normally have some idea of what I am going to write before I even sit down at the computer, this new approach would really take me out of my comfort zone. The pain! The pain! On the other hand, I was curious to see what my mind might come up with. It would be a great challenge—and like cod liver oil, even if unpleasant, probably good for me.

Galloping grasshoppers! Spontaneity has worked. Of course, I do work in stuff I read and so on—which suggests an element of planning—but normally I do that in hot blood, or don’t include it. Paradoxically, I now find it easier to write when I don’t have such a focus. I’m finding that spontaneity is fun—and terrific exercise for the mind.

Overall, I find blogging a very good thing. Here, I am not primarily commenting on my own positive experience, but am much influenced by the high quality of some other blogs I have discovered. These now rival the best of journalism. I read them with the same focus I give magazines such as THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY. That is high praise, by the way.

We now come to Facebook. Here, I admit defeat so far. I have had a Facebook page for over four years but have never written in it regularly because I find most of the content pretty trivial. I have the feeling that this is arrogance on my part because I do understand the advantages of keeping in touch with people you would otherwise drift way from. I am far less convinced by the advantages of building up numerous “Facebook friends” you don’t know from a hole in the wall.

These days Facebook has made so many changes I don’t even know how it works. Accordingly, my plan it to recruit a guide and assault its bastions once again. It is such a major presence that—like it or not—I don’t think it can be avoided—and I am much influenced by the fact that more than a few people I love use it (though seemingly, where they are siblings, cannot—or will not—write letters).

My track record at instantly understanding Social Media really isn’t good at all. I like to think I have an open-mind, and on many issues I do, but Social Media caught me decidedly short. I screwed up again when it came to LinkedIn after I was introduced to it by my good friend, GI Wilson (a former Marine colonel of some distinction). Fortunately, in this case, I eventually took the time to write an adequate profile—and I have been somewhat amazed at the response. Simply put—LinkedIn works—and  and I intend to give it even more attention in the future.

Has Social Media made the world a better place? Well, it has certainly made the world a different place—but different is not necessarily better.

If you believe in the Wisdom of Crowds—the concept that many minds can normally come up with a superior answer—you would think that we would merely have to list the problems society faces—and the answers would be forthcoming now that communication has become a resource accessible (more or less) to us all.

I see scant evidence that this is the case. Perhaps this is because it is early days and we don’t know how to make optimum use of it yet—or perhaps crowds are not really that wise.

I haven’t given up hope yet. In some ways, somewhat to my surprise, I am an optimist.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

(#52-1) November 22 2014. Do we understand the nature of the wars we keep on getting into? Do we understand what motivates our enemies? Do we care to find out? The evidence is that we do not.

IT IS FUTILE TO BATTLE IDEAS WITH FIREPOWER.

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

TO CONFRONT DANGEROUS IDEAS—LIKE THOSE OF ISIS—YOU NEED BETTER IDEAS (THOUGH YOU MAY NEED FIREPOWER TOO) 

DO WE HAVE THEM? AND IF WE DO—DO WE PRACTICE THEM—OR IS OUR STATED COMMITMENT TO FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY, AND THE FREE ENTERPRISE SYSTEM, SOMETHING OF A SHAM?

These are provocative questions, but it is hard not to admit that our representative democracy is in a very bad way. The Mid-Terms illustrated the point. They were entirely dominated by Big Money—largely donated by a very small number of people—and most Americans showed their disillusionment by staying away. Voter turnout was something like 36%—a near record low and a disgrace—worst in 70 years.

In effect, American voters said: “Our political system is a total, unmitigated, failure.” Congress is held in particularly low regard. In comparison, the President is downright popular. 

But the fact that our democracy is really a plutocracy is not the only issue—important though that is. We also have a grotesquely unequal society, are consumer driven and materialist to excess—and, abroad, spread death, destruction, and corruption wherever we meddle (and we are meddling in a distressingly large number of countries from the Yemen to Chad).

Look no further than Afghanistan and Iraq right now for chaos, societal failure, and massive corruption (after over a decade of U.S. occupation in each case)—but, if you are inclined to dig a little, you will find a veritable laundry list of counties where we have backed bad people, done truly terrible things—and continue to do them.

Yet Islamic extremism is stronger now—much stronger—than it was when 9/11 occurred. There is considerable evidence that a great deal that we are doing is counter-productive.

But you don’t have to look abroad. The Great Recession, just by itself, demonstrated the rottenness and malfeasance of our financial system—and it speaks volumes that after all this time the individuals and  institutions which caused such economic carnage have not only not been prosecuted, but have been supported massively by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. taxpayer.

Other Developed Nations—and many on the cusp of achieving that status—have evolved a series of mechanisms that lessen the stress of everyday living while still encouraging both entrepreneurship and creativity. Such mechanism include:

  • Healthcare
  • A comprehensive social safety net.
  • A cooperative work environment.
  • Job security and worker rights.
  • Long vacations.
  • Low cost housing.
  • Superior infrastructure.
  • Adequate pension systems.

The contrast with the current American Way of Life—as far as most of us are concerned—is self evident. We have evolved a high threat, unfair, decidedly insecure, high stress environment where roughly half the population lives paycheck to paycheck, where most incomes are in decline (when inflation is factored in), and where critical needs such as healthcare, housing, and education are rapidly becoming unaffordable.

Fear—above all of economic disaster—stemming from something as simple as the loss of a job or some medical issue—has become endemic to  how we live, and is leading to an ever increasing number of Americans becoming traumatized.

The American Way of Life is significantly shorter than that of our European friends. While we live, we are less healthy—and we die roughly three years sooner. The reasons for this shattering discrepancy are not hard to find—and are self-inflicted. They are self-inflicted not just in terms of lifestyle—which is certainly a factor—but, much more to the point, because we have let ourselves be manipulated to the extent we do.

Freedom, as they say, is not free. More to the point, it is something you have to fight for every day in numerous ways—or, as is the case here, greedy people will seize power. It is in the nature of such people to avail of every opportunity—and by our neglect of our hard won democracy, we handed them just that.

This country is now run, to an extent just short of total, by a very small group of exceptionally rich and greedy people supported by large numbers of people who serve them. They run things for their own benefit and our stressful lives are just one unfortunate consequence.

Let me quote from a piece by Lynn Stuart Parramore in Alternet.com:

I know that a serious illness could bankrupt me.

I am afraid I will never be able to afford to have a child.

My nightmare is to end up poor and abandoned in my golden years.

A 2012 study of hospital patients in Atlanta’s inner-city communities showed that rates of post-traumatic stress are now on par with those of veterans returning from war zones. At least 1 out of 3 surveyed said they had experienced stress responses like flashbacks, persistent fear, a sense of alienation, and aggressive behavior. All across the country, in Detroit, New Orleans, and in what historian Louis Ferleger describes as economic “dead zones” — places where people have simply given up and sunk into “involuntary idleness” — the pain is written on slumped bodies and faces that have become masks of despair.

Modern communications are such that our enemies are intimately familiar with what is happening here—and they are using it to advantage, and with considerable sophistication and success.. They don’t do it fairly—and they ignore the deep-rooted strengths of our society (which we seem unable or unwilling to deploy)—but the end result is that Islamic Extremism is made to seem as superior in many ways, and a cause worth fighting and dying for.

Our massive failure to live up to our own professed beliefs has become a serious vulnerability—and a matter of National Security. It constitutes an existential threat—a threat to our very existence—in the very real sense of the term.

Who else is better qualified to destroy this Great Nation than Americans?

We have made an impressive start at such destruction.

VOR words 963