Tuesday, March 31, 2015

(#179-1) March 31 2015. Bull in a China shop—though we seem to have started in the Middle East.








Clearly, I don’t know whether there will be a nuclear attack on the U.S. or not. I am not privy to any classified defense information—and I’m not privy to any terrorist plans (except through deduction and where they have stated their objectives publicly).

I am widely read, traveled, and experienced—and follow MANS closely—and have for about 60 years—but there it ends. Does that make me an expert? I’ll leave that to others to decide. I do know I’m deeply knowledgeable about this murky world and have become fairly good at determining patterns and trends. In this regard, it helps greatly to know history and context—and to have a mind that thinks holistically. You need to be able to make connections that are less than obvious. That said, merely recognizing the predictable would be an encouraging start.

Do U.S. policy makers? I’m not sure they care.

Why on earth did we think we could invade and occupy Iraq with impunity—and then behave in the way we did? Why do we continue to kill, destroy, and otherwise meddle in scores of other countries?

There is a difference between being strong enough to deter aggression—and being wantonly reckless.

What is MANS? It stands for ‘Military and National Security’ and is how I index the information I gather for that category every day. I like to maintain what I think of as a ‘base of information’ and then research further if necessary. I focus on:

  • MANS
  • ECON (Economics and The Economy)
  • P&D (Politics and Democracy)
  • TECH (Technology)

What has caused me to fly this particular kite is a sense that the militarization of U.S. foreign policy has got completely out of control—and seems to be increasingly counterproductive. Nonetheless, the American people as a whole—as with so many issues—don’t seem to question what is going on.

If you examine U.S. foreign policy since WW II—after a very encouraging start which included the Marshall Plan, it is hard not to conclude that we have been as much part of the problem as part of the solution—and maybe most of the problem in all too many cases.

This is such a consistent pattern that one has to conclude it is not an accident. But who benefits?

The short answer is that the MICC (Military Industrial Congressional Complex) benefits greatly—and has done so for a staggering three-quarters of a century ever since the U.S. started to re-arm around the beginning of WW II.

Big Oil and Big Business in general have also done exceedingly well.

The American people, as a whole, have done very badly out of militarization. Trillions of dollars, which could have been spent to improve our quality of life, have instead been spent—nominally anyway—on security in some way or another.

Are we safer as a consequence?

I believe to the contrary. In particular, our behavior since 9/11 has been almost entirely counter-productive to the point where we have managed to de-stabilize virtually the entire Islamic world, and to push large numbers to the classic extremist behavior that stems from desperation.

There is always a reason for terrorism—and, primarily it stems from desperation. Desperate people do desperate things and since they know perfectly well that the U.S. is too large and powerful to be seriously affected by conventional terrorist bombs, it seems inevitable that they will turn to nuclear weaponry.

Will they be able to lay their hands on it?

I believe they will—and that they are sufficiently motivated to smuggle nuclear devices into the U.S. and to detonate them. I believe multiple weapons will be involved.

But, I’m a thriller writer so I would think this way, wouldn’t I?

Being a thriller writer does not make me wrong—and it certainly encourages me to think about various possible scenarios. A consistent theme, as far as I am concerned, is that nuclear weapons will be used again. I regard that as inevitable.

By the way, the country that worries me most is not Iran, but Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden and most of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi. They are a dictatorship ruling over a truly worrying number of extremists. They have money to burn. They are frightened. We have sold them a ridiculous quantity of high-tech weaponry. And they are currently attacking Yemen.

Do they have nuclear weapons—or access to them? They have more than enough money to buy access—and they are motivated. I suspect they do. 

VOR words 803.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

#178-1 March 30 2015. The lure of words.





I have stressed the downside of writing at such length—particularly in yesterday’s blog—that I woke, today, with a feeling that I should write something about the positive effects of book writing. I’m less concerned with redressing the balance than in clarifying my own ideas insofar as I can.

Given the disadvantages I have listed, surely there has to be an up-side?

Or am I insane

That is not as easy as it sound because I don’t really know with certainty why I love writing so much. Mostly, I accept the reality, give thanks, and go on from there. Where writing is concerned, I don’t spend much time being introspective about it.

I prefer to actually write. The reward lies in the doing.

Today, I’m going to try to be introspective and  write.  My main fear is that I won’t convey the pleasure of writing adequately. It is one of these things—like jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft—that you really have to do to understand.

Writing bears a certain resemblance to such an activity—without a parachute!

I can’t adequately justify it—but I love it so!

  • CHEMISTRY. As with being in love (or lust), there is a great deal you can’t explain. You click with some people, but not with others. Writing was an imperative initially—as far as I was concerned—but a particularly troublesome mistress. I struggled. Over time I have fallen deeply in love and remain in that state. I continue to struggle—writing is never easy—but it has exceeded all my expectations by far—and continues to surprise and delight me. I am intrigued by it, passionate about it—and (somewhat to my surprise) faithful to it.
  • CREATIVITY DEMANDS AN OUTLET. If you have an active, restless, intellectually curious mind, you feel you will virtually explode if  don’t find an outlet. Writing, at least partially, resolves this issue. I say ‘partially,’ because unwritten stories creative their own pressure. But it is much better to have such ideas than not.
  • IF YOU LOVE READING, WRITING IS A LOGICAL EXTENSION. Reading saved me from a particularly miserable early childhood—which included violence at home, and much bullying, and  over a decade at boarding school—and represented escape and adventure. While I read, I was content—and I read all the time and virtually anywhere.
  • PEOPLE NATURALLY GRAVITATE TOWARDS WHAT THEY ARE GOOD AT.  I don’t recall displaying any talent for anything much while I was at my Irish boarding school—from the age of five to nine—except that I survived. Strangely enough, the academic side, once I learned to read, is a complete blank. I remember some of the teachers and the bullying—but not a single class. I must have had school reports but I can recall nothing about them. I have no idea whether I did well or badly. All I know is that at the age of nine I was removed from St. Gerard’s—which was based in Ireland—and send to Gilling Castle, the prep school belonging to the highly regarded Catholic public school, Ampleforth College. There, I quickly excelled—particularly in anything which involved writing. I fact, I ended up as the academic top of the school when I was twelve and moved on to Ampleforth’s middle school which was known as Junior House. Well, this isn’t the place for a detailed school history, but the point is that I showed an aptitude for writing at that early age. In fact, I wasn’t a bad poet back then—though it was prose that attracted me. Why didn’t I become a writer after I graduated from university?
    • I felt I didn’t have enough experience of life.
    • I wasn’t a good enough writer.
    • The few writing jobs that were available paid badly.
    • I didn’t have a mentor or any real connection to that world—and had no idea where to start.
    • I wasn’t sure, at the time, that it was a realistic possibility.
    • I was under great pressure from my mother to get a well paid job in business.

Despite all these factors, while still in my late twenties, in the end I gave up a well paid job in business in order to write. By any practical standards, it was an insane decision—because I went from relative financial security and comfort to a life of uncertainty—but it was the right decision for me.

  • WRITING IS TAILOR-MADE TO LEAD TO ADVENTURES & EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. IT IS NEAR THE ULTIMATE DOOR OPENER. Subject to your finances and publishing arrangements, it is really up to you, the writer, to determine where and how you do your research, how long you will spend upon it, who you shall meet, and what you shall do. As a consequence, if you are prepared to exercise initiative, you will end up doing remarkable things and meeting extraordinary people. My kind of writing doesn’t guarantee it. But it makes it possible.
  • WRITING CAN RESULT IN EXTRAORDINARY ACCESS. Such access is not guaranteed. It depends what you write and how you handle yourself—but it has worked this way as far as I have been concerned.
  • WRITING GIVES YOU A VEHICLE FROM WHICH TO INVESTIGATE JUST ABOUT ANYTHING. Theoretically, anyone can investigate anything but, it is much easier to this if you have the cover of being a writer. Writers are expected to ask questions. Plumbers, for instance, are not (except about plumbing).
  • WRITING ALLOWS YOU TO OPERATE WITHOUT THE NORMAL CONSTRAINTS OF A JOB—THOUGH AT THE PRICE OF SECURITY. Some may regard this a somewhat Faustian bargain. All I can say is that I regard getting though most of my adult life without having to adhere to the normal constraints and disciplines of a regular job as worth the price. Then, there is also the fact that job security is no longer what it was.
  • WRITING ALLOWS A TRULY REMARKABLE DEGREE OF INDEPENDENCE. It is in the nature of life that one is strongly influenced—to the point of being conditioned—by one’s surroundings. When you are dependent upon an employer, this is hard to resist. I have largely been able to resist this situation.
  • WRITING  IS EXTRAORDINARILY THERAPEUTIC. When I started to write seriously, I found I couldn’t. First, I had to train my mind. Later, riddled with self-doubt as I was, I found it more struggle than anything else. More recently—though I still find it hard work—I regard the whole process as a privilege, a pleasure, and quite remarkably relaxing.
  • WRITING YIELDS SIGNIFICANT HEALTH BENEFITS—AS FAR AS THE MIND IS CONCERNED. Writing involves constant exercise for one’s brain—with proportionate benefits. Whether writing is entirely good for you physically is another matter. Sitting at a computer all day is now known to be harmful. I’m trying to transition to being a writer who potters a lot.
  • WRITING CAN COMMAND CONSIDERABLE RESPECT. Though I have stressed that more than a few people neither understand nor respect writers—unless the writer is clearly enjoying some degree of fame and financial success, others do respect the talent and commitment involved—and they are more likely to be the people you want to respect you in the first place. Personally, I have found the best door-opener to be a book. If I give someone a book the chances are the next time I meet them they will have become a friend.
  • WRITING FEELS LIKE THE RIGHT THING FOR ME TO BE DOING. I guess most of us question our purpose in life at some stage or other. When things are tough, it is natural to wonder whether one shouldn’t be in another line of work. No matter how things are, I always come to the same conclusion. I’m doing what I am meant to be doing.
  • WRITING CAN AND DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE. I don’t want to overstress either the importance or significance of what my written words have accomplished over the decades. All I can say is that my words have made a difference in some rather serious ways  in addition to helping some millions of people relax with one of my thrillers. I’m content with that—plus a little bit more I still intend to do.
  • WRITING IS EXHILERATING. IT OFFERS A REMARKABLE DEGREE OF SUSTAINED INTELLECTUAL SATISFACTION. THE SHEER EFFORT RESULTS IN A ‘WRITER’S HIGH.’ It is a great thing to feel so good while working day after day after day—despite the inevitable stresses of life. As I have written before, it is a joyous feeling—and it endures.

Do all book writers feel this way? I doubt we do. We are a mixed bunch. Nonetheless, most of the writers I know personally love what we do and would be of this mind.

“We few, we happy few, we band of writers.”

With all due acknowledgement to William Shakespeare—who was very much one of us.

VOR words 1,474.


(#177-1) March 29 2015 Every writer needs a friend. Read on and you will see why.




Life, as far as a writer is concerned, is all material. Every thought and every experience—whether good or bad, and no matter how intimate—is evaluated, consciously or subconsciously, as to its possible relevance to the written word.

A writer never stops working. Whether you are sitting at your desk actually writing—or lying in the sun on the Costa Del Sol  (Spain) glass of wine at one hand, near naked companion touching the other (people do actually take vacations in Europe)—you think writing.

When you are asleep, your subconscious makes its own essential contribution.

And the damn thing works without pay!

Writing is an evolutionary process. It starts with gathering information in any and every way possible. The inevitably confusing and chaotic consequence of all this input tends to be compounded by the fact that the creative mind tends to be both questioning and restless to the point of exhaustion. It refuses to accept the incoming data on face value.  It examines, queries, debates, prioritizes, changes—and, above all, struggles. It eschews the obvious and the predictable. It experiments with unorthodox associations. It rejects and re-examines. And the whole stress-inducing business takes as long as it takes. The truly creative mind has a strange sense of time and scant regard for deadlines.  Yet, from such anarchy stems insight and clarity—or such is the goal.

Writing is the conversion of thought into the written word—a deceptively simple process when described—but agonizingly difficult to do well because you have also got to engage, entertain, and convince the reader—and keep doing it for hundreds of pages. Then, there is the modest matter of having thoughts of some value in the first place. That takes an original cast of mind—and more work than most can imagine.

A principle of life is that the simpler it looks, the harder it almost certainly is to do. What looks effortless invariably takes practice, experience, and sustained effort.

Clear, entertaining, and compelling writing requires formidable commitment.—and the persistence of Sisyphus. The professional writer is a driven talent. Such people have to be.

Today, you are not just competing with other writers in unprecedented quantities, but with more distractions than have ever existed throughout history—everything from TV to phone apps—and many free at that, and, where smart phones are concerned, constantly at hand.

Hemingway put it well. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Bleeding is no longer enough. Hemingway lived and wrote in a simpler time when a writer’s primary preoccupation was the writing itself. Today, a writer  has to be concerned with a wide range of activities from cover design to marketing to the ever changing complexities of social media.

The process of writing alone can be agonizing—and break your heart, your hopes, and your spirit. It can be humiliating. Add in the other areas a writer has to be concerned with, and the totality of effort required becomes formidable in the extreme. It is relentlessly demanding.

Writing, in my case, isn’t a job. It’s a total commitment. It’s a way of thinking, and life, which influences my every conscious action to a degree many would find surprising—and probably unacceptable.

They would regard the price as being too high—far too high. Awful!

They have my sympathy. It probably is too high by most standards. A self-employed book writer like me faces:

  • FAILURE. Chronic failure across the spectrum including being unable to write quite as well as one wants. A writer, no matter how successful, lives with failure because such creative endeavor is a search for perfection—an innately unachievable goal. It requires a particular kind of personality to live with that.
  • YEARS OF LEARNING. Years, and then decades, spent learning one’s craft. It’s important to keep learning and to appreciate that breakthroughs come from pushing the envelope—and sometimes doing something you dislike. I loathed blogging but was encouraged to continue. I did—and it has had a profoundly constructive effect upon my writing. Now, I love it.
  • LOST TIME. Denial of opportunity—particularly where time is concerned. Writing is time-consuming to a degree that most people don’t understand. As a consequence, a writer has to make hard choices which can be seen by others as being selfish. There is no alternative because time is finite. Creativity is not about compromise. It is about focus in pursuit of a result. Such zeal can be misinterpreted as cruelty. It isn’t. It is necessary.
  • WORKING EXTRAORDINARILY HARD. Between research and writing, I put in more than 80 hours a week. I cannot say that is what every writer does, but I can say that most I know would regard a normal 40 hour week as being close to decadent. Mind you, we writers aren’t against a little decadence every now and then.
  • LOSS OF PRIVACY. Most of us construct a carapace and conceal our doubts, imperfections, and fears behind it. Doubtless, we writers do the same thing—but then we reveal ourselves at length through our writing.
  • SELF-DOUBT & STRESS. Chronic self-doubt and stress. Your self-doubt is not confined to your writing—where being self-critical is essential if you are to improve. But you also question your way of life because it is a ridiculously difficult and impractical path to choose. There are many easier ways to make a more financially rewarding living.  
  • REJECTION. Rejection—again and again. Rejection pervades the book business and even the most successful authors have normally been rejected multiple times. A writer faces rejection by agents, publishers, critics, family, friends, and most of the rest of the human race. Your best friend may end up being your cat. The worst fate of all is to be rejected by one’s readers.
  • THE LOW PROBABILITY OF SUCCESS. The high probability of total failure. Very few of us earn enough to make a living from writing, and only a small elite group become consistently Best Selling Authors. And, in their cases, it is all too easy to become the prisoner of a genre—even though you crave to write something else. Being in a creative prison—even if you are wealthy—is soul-destroying. A tip—if you are going to have your soul destroyed, it is more endurable if you are wealthy.
  • FINANCIAL INSECURITY. Chronic financial insecurity. This is normally enough to break most of us just by itself. More than a few writers live in poverty.
  • IGNORANCE. A lack of understanding by the majority. In my experience, most people are deeply and profoundly ignorant about writing as a way of life. Since most of us know how to write—albeit to a minimal standard—that statement is somewhat counter-intuitive, but the point to grasp is not that they don’t understand the mechanics of the process, but that a writer’s mindset doesn’t resonate with them. We think differently. If they knew how differently, they would run!
  • SOCIAL UNACCEPTABILITY. Being regarded as something of a failure and socially unacceptable by many. People tend to evaluate you by how much money you make (and who you work for—prestige by association)—and most writers just don’t make that much money. The more perceptive don’t particularly like the fact that writers are in the judgment business (as in wondering whether a person can be utilized in writing in any way). That can be regarded as closer evaluation than is socially comfortable. To make it worse, writers tend to be unusually observant and empathetic—so little escapes our notice. But, we tend to be hardest of all on ourselves.
  • LACK OF SUPPORT. A lack of support by your nearest and dearest. If you are not a good breadwinner—and most writers are not—people’s faith in you has a habit of evaporating. Love can meet the same fate.  
  • CRITICISM. Editorial criticism. A good editor can be enormously helpful, but they are rare and over-worked. The corporatization and consolidation of traditional publishing has meant that there are now many fewer editors than there were—and they have markedly less time to work with an author. As to the quality of editors, the odds are against being hooked up with a good one. Working with an editor you are not compatible with can be a soul-destroying experience. I have been there. It is.
  • AGENT & PUBLISHER EXPLOITATION & DISHONESTY. Frequent truly bad advice and exploitation by both agents  and publishers. It seems to be generally assumed that a writer will be well advised by both agent and publisher. What they don’t understand is that the writer, agent and publisher have very different agendas. The writer is creative. The agent and publisher are sales people—middlemen who make a living by exploiting the talents of the creative.  You can argue that such exploiters perform necessary functions in the process—especially because many writers are temperamentally unsuited to perform the commercial aspects of the process. Nonetheless, as a consequence, the writer may well be be lied to and otherwise deceived to a degree that is hard to credit. In my experience, the best advice comes from only one source—other writers.
  • LONELINESS. Most of us both enjoy and require a high level of social interaction. In contrast, most book writers work alone in order to focus. Such solitude can be both depressing and soul destroying. In my case, I don’t find it so because my characters are real to me when I write—and I find writing generally is so fulfilling. But the potential for social alienation is there.
  • MARKETING NEGLECT. Being badly marketed by publishers. It is a terrible thing to work for years on a book and then have it die because no one knows that it exists. Most books are merely distributed and not marketed at all. Readers stumble across them—if you are lucky.
  • BAD REVIEWS. Public criticism in the form of really bad reviews. Such criticism may well not be justified. Nonetheless, these hurt your sales, your finances, and your pride.
  • DESPAIR. A writer will be tempted to despair more often than I care to describe. You have to endure regardless. The qualities a writer requires—apart from writing talents—are somewhat paradoxical. It helps your actual writing greatly if you are emotionally sensitive and empathetic—which almost certainly makes you vulnerable—but you also need to be mentally tough and resilient, or the life will kill you. In short, you need to be simpatico, but stoic—sensitive, but have stamina—reasonable, but robust. Writing is a true test of character.

Have I experienced any of the above? Pretty much all of the above to some degree or other—though I haven’t been rejected by my readers.

That is a rather fundamental qualification. If your readers want you, you can survive just about anything. Better yet if they write to you—as mine have in their thousands.

But, the price, as far as I am concerned, has never been relevant. I didn’t just want to be a writer. I knew I had to be a writer if ever I was to have any peace of mind at all. It was an imperative I cannot explain.

I don’t think there was one specific moment when I made that commitment. It was more that I made a series of decisions over time—years and then decades—which have resulted in my current level of dedication.

I now realize that just about every action I take—from what I think about—to what I eat—is influenced by its relevance to writing. The issue is not whether I am right or wrong in that regard. It is just the way it is.

Do I think about the price I have paid—and continue to pay—for being a writer? Yes, I do—and relatively often. Virtually all my friends are financially secure, if not downright wealthy, and are able to do things which—in my current state—I cannot afford to do. Many are retired. I face having to work until I die.

That’s as lucky as it gets in my case. What else would I want to do!

Perhaps the most frustrating thing has been finding that I am almost completely unable to explain writing—and specifically my particular approach to it—to a non-writer (subject to rare and wonderful exceptions).

Yes, people understand the appeal of not have a regular job, of not being subject to the whims of a boss, of being able to travel anywhere (if you can afford it) and being empowered to ask anybody anything—but they can’t come close to grasping the appeal of writing itself—and that all the other aspects, from the research to the adventures you can have, are peripheral to the challenge of building a creation out of the written word.

On the contrary, they regard writing as hard work, and often near impossible—so something to be avoided.

Why would any sane normal person want to do it—especially all day and alone at that?

On the other hand, perversely, most people seem to think they could write a book if only they had the time. The unstated implication is that it would be a good book at that.

No matter how they talk, few people start writing a book. Fewer people still finish writing one. Very, very, few write a good book.

This is no reflection on them—or on you. I am merely making the point that most of us—whatever our skills and strengths—are not writers; and that to write a book of merit requires a great deal more than having led an interesting life, or having a few good ideas.

Now that Amazon (and others) have made independent publishing both respectable and often successful (if you put the effort in) that still means there are an awful lot of books out there—but that number still pales in relation to the size of population. Hundreds of thousands of books are published annual these days—which can seem overwhelming—but the global population is in excess of seven billion.

The issue of time is an interesting one. Many people have a regular job and write in the evenings or when they can (which is rarely as often or as long as they would like.

I decided fairly early on that if I was to become the kind of writer I aspired to be, I would need to work at it full time—or as close to that as possible. I would, if necessary, take time off to do a consulting job to avoid starvation, but I would be as near full-time as I could. There were several reasons for this.

  • I thought it would take considerable time for me merely to learn how to write a book—let alone to do the deed itself. I started without any book-writing experience at all. I hadn’t even done much journalism. I was proven to be right on both counts.
  • I have noticed that regular paid employment can have a corrosive effect. It is very hard to retain your creativity when you have to conform to the customs and practices of an organization—no matter its quality--and I loathe commuting.  
  • If you have a regular job—and family responsibilities—it is actually quite hard to find the time to write. That book you want to write never gets finished.
  • I work best when I’m fully focused. I am a terrible multi-tasker.
  • I wanted time to read and think as well as write—and reading in itself—at least as much as I do—is time consuming..
  • A close friend of mine, Niall Fallon, a truly wonderful man (sadly now dead prematurely of a heart attack), also a writer but with a full time job as a deputy editor of The Irish Times, advised me strongly to commit totally to writing. His job required only four days a week, but he still found it very hard to write part-time. In contrast, he had taken a year off earlier to write a book and had found that worked much better. He stressed the importance and value of total commitment.

I did just that—and then steadily increased my focus on it to the point where—even if I want to relax—I write. I do other things too, of course—like walk or have dinner with friends—and I love movies—but writing is the focus of my life.

Has the sacrifice—and all the other difficulties—been  worth it?


I wish I could think of a stronger word—but I guess ‘totally’ is as unequivocal as it gets.

In fact, even in my worse moments, I have never had any regrets about becoming  a writer. I regret some of the other decisions I have made—and particularly my lack of courage on various occasions, or how I have behaved (sometimes) where interpersonal relations have been concerned—but I have never had any reservations about becoming a writer. On the contrary, I occasionally breakout in a mental sweat when I consider what life might have been like if I had not become a writer. I shudder!

I rarely feel envy in any real sense these days—and certainly not about material possessions, social position, nor status.

There is no mystery as to the reason.

I have my problems—and some are difficult—but, in essence, I’m  doing what I most want to do in the world (or something related to it) all day—and well into most evenings—for nearly every day. I’m motivated, inspired, energized—and creatively, intellectually, and emotionally, fulfilled to a level that I didn’t believe was possible.

I don’t want anything in a fundamental sense I haven’t got. I would like to do more for those I love—and change the world for the better. But I feel beyond privileged to be a writer.

As for my angst—maybe that is what a writer needs to keep him (or her) going.

Regarding my comment about every writer needing a friend—and I cannot overstress the importance of this—I am much blessed in that regard. That isn’t to say that some friends have not lost faith in me—they have and it hurts—but some very special people I hold in the highest regard have hung in there (somewhat to my amazement at times).

With such close friends, and the support of my readers—and some are both—the friction of a writer’s life becomes of scant consequence.

The combination of writing—and such support—is the joy.

VOR words 2,919.



Saturday, March 28, 2015

(#176-1) March 28 2015. The consequences of the inconsequential can be magic.




Since words are my business, I will freely admit that there is a case to be made for writing “Pleasure in small things,” instead of “Happiness,”—which seems a somewhat excessive consequence of what I am about to describe—but since the positive feelings I get from seemingly insignificant actions, events, and circumstances are so profound, I think I’ll stick with my original choice of words.

I suspect merely being human and alive (it helps) is inherently stressful. I don’t know that for sure because I’m not a mind-reader (Isn’t it amazing that you never really know what another person is thinking?) but the evidence suggests it is a reasonable  proposition regardless of external appearances. To appear calm and relaxed does not necessarily mean you are in that state—though you might think you are. But, most probably it means that you have good control.

Apart from being a writer—a particularly stressful occupation just by itself—I compound the problem by a pattern of tackling issues and projects that , more often than not, are beyond my initial experience and competence, and which take years. Why so? I don’t really know. I clearly have Don Quixote’s genes in me. All I can say is that is my track record—and since I am approaching 71 as I write this, it seems unlikely I will change.

Such an approach to life guarantees a high level of stress so you might think that I have the kind of personality that handles stress well.

I don’t. I am not the calm cool hero figure I would like to be (too many Westerns when I was a child). Instead, I am a highly emotional, sensitive, creative, animal who suffers internally greatly from the vicissitudes of life. I don’t necessarily show it, but such is the case. I wish it were otherwise. I would like to be stronger, more courageous, more resilient. I value my empathetic side from a writing point of view, but, as with imagination, it is also a vulnerability that can—and does—lead to pain.

Overall, I’m certainly not complaining. I value those qualities that enable me to be a better writer more than I can say. But, as with most things in life, there is a trade-off. We humans are an ingenious compromise.

So how do I cope and endure?

Not as well as I would like is the answer—but the truth is that I cope rather better than one might expect (or, I feel, I have any right to).

How so?

  • By writing. Writing is such an antidote to the stresses of life that I’m surprised that Big Pharma hasn’t tried to patent it.
  • By having a writer’s perspective. Writing promotes a strange mixture of involvement and detachment. There is not necessarily a relationship between what I write about and my mood (though writing anything humorous tends to have a positive impact). But writing about the distressing direction of the U.S. right now does not necessarily depress me. Perhaps it should. It’s appalling—but intellectually fascinating.
  • By having a sense of humor. It is a great thing to have a sense of the ridiculous and all that goes with it. I credit my much loved step-father, Alfred, for cultivating this. He was, I think, one of the most intelligent and quick-witted human beings I have ever encountered. His early death was a tragedy. His life, when he was in his prime, was a triumph.
  • Because of the support of friends. This is a complex subject I shall write about some other day.
  • By not escaping into distraction. I used to escape whenever I could into a book, a movie, TV or some other distraction. These days, I stay in the real world much more and live in hopes I shall reach some accommodation with it before leaving it. It may well be a relationship of short duration—a sort of, “Hello/Goodbye.” The jury is still out.
  • Through happiness in small things.

The small things that so sustain me are mostly so small and inconsequential that they seem scarcely worth describing—yet I have noticed that not only do they have a profound effect on my moods, but that I don’t end up taking them for granted. I’m uplifted again and again and again.

Perhaps if I do describe them, the magic will be lost.

Do I believe in magic? Of course I do. Writing is magic.

I’ll have to think about all this.

VOR words 753.

Friday, March 27, 2015

(#175-1) March 27 2015. The disinformation age?




IT’S THE PARADOX AGE (headless chicken version)

I’m increasingly struck by the fact that despite this being a time when we have never had more answers available—partly, because thanks to the internet, we now have the tools to both find and implement these solutions—we seem to be getting ourselves into more and more of a mess without dealing with most of our problems. Instead, more and more of us seem to be rushing around like a bunch of headless chickens.

If you have never decapitated a chicken with a machete (I saw my step-father in action, and don’t recommend this particular killing technique) they can rush around for long moments in bloody aimless confusion before collapsing dead in a flurry of gore-sodden feathers.

It’s a superfluous expenditure of energy. As snipers like to say about their victims. “It’s pointless to run. You’ll only die tired.”

Much less messy, and more practical, is to wring a chicken’s neck—which I have done a number of times. Necessary though it was, I didn’t much like it. On of my chores as a child  was to feed the hens  on my grandmother’s farm in Ireland, and I grew rather fond of the things. There is something rather soothing about hens clucking away. I associate that farm with much happiness. It was located south of Dublin in Brittas Bay, County Wicklow. Yes, I know there are other Dublins—but we’re talking Ireland here.

But, I digress. Back to my main point.

  • We have a hopelessly out of date constitution which palpably isn’t working—yet there is no discussion about changing it. Why, on earth, not?
  • We profess to live in a representative democracy but most of us are no longer represented—and we really live in a plutocracy. That means rule by the rich for their benefit. It is scarcely a mystery. Elections are now bought in the most blatant way.
  • We have never had more means of communication, yet it’s increasingly hard to get through to anyone by phone. In fact, it’s increasingly hard to get though to anyone—period. Ideology now wins out against facts—constantly. Rugged individualism defeats rationality nearly every time—and Americans are fiercely proud it.
  • We purport to be drowning in information, yet most Americans are alarmingly ignorant of issues that are directly relevant to their lives.
  • We are the richest country in the world, yet the earning power of most Americans is in decline—and tens of millions are on food stamps. Yet this catastrophic situation is rarely challenged in any fundamental way. It’s just the ways things are.
  • We argue that we have the best economic system in the world—and advocate growth as the solution to most economic problems, yet China—which actually plans its economy—is growing about three times fast than us (and has done so for years).
  • We profess to be the guardians of world peace, yet everywhere we go we spread carnage, chaos, and corruption (and we are the leading supplier of weaponry). Look at the current mess in Yemen which was recently touted as a success. We are contaminating countries wholesale.
  • We spend twice as much on healthcare as any other developed nation, yet live sicker, die sooner, and—under most health criteria—rate last. Half of insured adults are on legal drugs. That should scarcely be a surprise. God alone knows what the other half are on.
  • We eat more calories than anywhere else in the word—yet  yet out Food Chain is deeply flawed and a truly alarming number of our fellows go hungry. Why do we find this acceptable? Have we no decency?

I could list such paradoxes for pages—but I believe my case is made.

I’m not sure that writing about it accomplishes anything—one can always hope—but it keeps me in writing trim.

And that is where my primary concern lies.

Still, I have to wonder where this extraordinarily reckless U.S. behavior—political, economic and military (Is there a difference?) will lead us. It’s spreading havoc on a global scale. It is not a case of good intentions gone wrong. A great deal of this is deliberate—pretty damn evil—and immensely profitable.

Actions have consequences. So does inaction.

Whether we are prepared to admit it or not—and the answer seems to be largely not—we have become systemically corrupt.

If we weren’t, we would act. By tolerating this, we become complicit.

We are complicit.

VOR words 752.




Thursday, March 26, 2015

(#174-1) March 26 2015. Action and no reaction—yet again. This is disturbing. The American Business Model is being hijacked in plain sight—with scarcely a protest. Disturbing!





Stock Buybacks Are Killing the American Economy

Profits once flowed to higher wages or increased investment. Now, they enrich a small number of shareholders.

NICK HANAUER FEB 8 2015, 12:00 PM ET

    President Obama should be lauded for using his State of the Union address to champion policies that would benefit the struggling middle class, ranging from higher wages to child care to paid sick leave. “It’s the right thing to do,” affirmed the president. And it is. But in appealing to Americans’ innate sense of justice and fairness, the president unfortunately missed an opportunity to draw an important connection between rising income inequality and stagnant economic growth.

As economic power has shifted from workers to owners over the past 40 years, corporate profit’s take of the U.S. economy has doubled—from an average of 6 percent of GDP during America’s post-war economic heyday to more than 12 percent today. Yet despite this extra $1 trillion a year in corporate profits, job growth remains anemic, wages are flat, and our nation can no longer seem to afford even its most basic needs. A $3.6 trillion budget shortfall has left many roads, bridges, dams, and other public infrastructure in disrepair. Federal spending on economically crucial research and development has plummeted 40 percent, from 1.25 percent of GDP in 1977 to only 0.75 percent today. Adjusted for inflation, public university tuition—once mostly covered by the states—has more than doubled over the past 30 years, burying recent graduates under $1.2 trillion in student debt. Many public schools and our police and fire departments are dangerously underfunded.

Where did all this money go?

The answer is as simple as it is surprising: Much of it went to stock buybacks—more than $6.9 trillion of them since 2004, according to data compiled by Mustafa Erdem Sakinç of The Academic-Industry Research Network. Over the past decade, the companies that make up the S&P 500 have spent an astounding 54 percent of profits on stock buybacks. Last year alone, U.S. corporations spent about $700 billion, or roughly 4 percent of GDP, to prop up their share prices by repurchasing their own stock.

In the past, this money flowed through the broader economy in the form of higher wages or increased investments in plants and equipment. But today, these buybacks drain trillions of dollars of windfall profits out of the real economy and into a paper-asset bubble, inflating share prices while producing nothing of tangible value. Corporate managers have always felt pressure to grow earnings per share, or EPS, but where once their only option was the hard work of actually growing earnings by selling better products and services, they can now simply manipulate their EPS by reducing the number of shares outstanding.

So what’s changed? Before 1982, when John Shad, a former Wall Street CEO in charge of the Securities and Exchange Commission loosened regulations that define stock manipulation, corporate managers avoided stock buybacks out of fear of prosecution. That rule change, combined with a shift toward stock-based compensation for top executives, has essentially created a gigantic game of financial “keep away,” with CEOs and shareholders tossing a $700-billion ball back and forth over the heads of American workers, whose wages as a share of GDP have fallen in almost exact proportion to profit’s rise.

To be clear: I’ve done stock buybacks too. We all do it. In this era of short-term-focused activist investors, it is nearly impossible to avoid. So at least part of the solution to our current epidemic of business disinvestment must be to discourage this sort of stock manipulation by going back to the pre-1982 rules.

Shareholders aren't providing capital to the corporate sector, they're extracting it.

This practice is not only unfair to the American middle class, but is also demonstrably harmful to both individual companies and the American economy as a whole. In a recent white paper titled “The World’s Dumbest Idea,” GMO asset allocation manager James Montier strongly challenges the 40-year obsession with “shareholder value maximization,” or SVM, documenting the many ways that stock buybacks and excessive dividends have reduced business investment and boosted inequality. Almost all investment carried out by firms is financed by retained earnings, Montier points out, so the diversion of cash flow to stock buybacks has inevitably resulted in lower rates of business investment. Defenders of SVM argue that investors efficiently reallocate the profits they reap from repurchased shares by investing the proceeds into more promising enterprises. But Montier shows that since the 1980s, public corporations have actually bought back more equity than they’ve issued, representing a net negative equity flow. Shareholders aren’t providing capital to the corporate sector, they’re extracting it.

Meanwhile, the shift toward stock-based compensation helped drive the rise of the 1 percent by inflating the ratio of CEO-to-worker compensation from twenty-to-one in 1965 to about 300-to-one today. Labor’s steadily falling share of GDP has inevitably depressed consumer demand, resulting in slower economic growth. A new study from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development finds that rising inequality knocked six points off U.S. GDP growth between 1990 and 2010 alone.

It is mathematically impossible to make the public- and private-sector investments necessary to sustain America’s global economic competitiveness while flushing away 4 percent of GDP year after year. That is why the federal government must reorient its policies from promoting personal enrichment to promoting national growth. These policies should limit stock buybacks and raise the marginal rate on dividends while providing real incentives to boost investment in R&D, worker training, and business expansion.

If business leaders hope to maintain broad public support for business, they must acknowledge that the purpose of the corporation is not to enrich the few, but to benefit the many. Once America’s CEOs refocus on growing their companies rather than growing their share prices, shareholder value will take care of itself and all Americans will share in the benefits of a renewed era of economic growth.

Share buy-backs are very far from the only problem. The economic situation of most Americans has been eroded in numerous ways from the crushing of trade unions to the near elimination of overtime pay—but it may well be the biggest.

The sheer scale of resources being diverted into share buybacks--$6.9 trillion of them since 2004is a horrendous distortion. No wonder investment is down, pay is in decline, and demand is depressed—while Wall Street is booming.

So what is being done about this catastrophic situation? Nothing. Those who largely control our economy—from the Fed to the Treasury—remain silent.

The financialization of the U.S. economy is a disaster—and its effects are cumulative and continuing. The predictable outcome is an economically weaker USA—and the lowering of the quality of life of most Americans.

VOR words c.100.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

(#173-1) March 25 2015. Something stressful this way comes—actually, it is already here..





That invaluable site, www.mercola.com, has just run an interesting piece on  stress.

Being an intellectually curious writer, I confess I find it downright relaxing (de-stressing) to read such stuff—but I am not unaware of the irony.

I am repeatedly struck by how little is done to make the American Way of Life less stressful—even though the solutions are well known. A great deal is being done to make it more stressful.


It makes some ultra-rich people even richer.

Is that a good enough answer?

Stress in America Caused by Money

By Dr. Mercola

The American Psychological Association (APA) has released its latest “Stress in America” report, with some good news to report. Overall, average stress levels in the US are trending downward.

On a 10-point scale, with 1 being “little or no stress” and 10 being “a great deal of stress,” the average stress level was 4.9 in 2014, compared to over 6 in 2007.1 That being said, many are still reporting high levels of stress, especially when it comes to one major factor: money.

Money and Financial Pressures Are Stressing Americans Out

Money topped the list of stressors to Americans, beating out work, family responsibilities, and health concerns. Close to three-quarters of Americans (72 percent) said they feel stressed about money at least some of the time, and close to one-quarter (22 percent) said they experience extreme stress about money.

In the last year, most Americans have taken steps to cut back on their expenses, including using coupons, cooking more at home, and cutting back on non-essentials. Despite these steps, 54 percent of Americans say they have “just enough” or “not enough” money to make ends meet at the end of the month.

What’s more, 32 percent of Americans said their lack of money prevents them from living a healthy lifestyle, while one in five have skipped (or considered skipping) needed doctor’s visits due to financial concerns.

It’s a vicious cycle, because both stress and financial pressure can take a toll on your health, which in turn may create more stress and money trouble. According to the APA report:2

“These findings stand against a backdrop of research that shows the profound effects of stress on health status and longevity. Research also shows that financial struggles strain individuals’ cognitive abilities, which could lead to poor decision-making and may perpetuate their unfavorable financial and health situations.”

Health Care Costs Are a Leading Source of Financial Stress

“Even though aspects of the U.S. economy continue to improve, some Americans are squeezed by sharp increases in health care costs and the cost of living,” the report noted. Overall, 38 percent of Americans said paying for out-of-pocket health care costs is a somewhat or very significant source of stress.

Parents and younger people (Generation Xers) report even higher levels of stress due to health care costs, as do those who make $50,000 a year or less (the study’s definition of lower income).

America spends 2.5 times more on health care per capita than any other developed nation, quickly approaching $3 trillion every year. With this kind of expenditure, you would expect our citizens to be the healthiest in the world, but this is not the case. In fact, the US ranks dead last in quality of care—Americans are sicker and live shorter lives than people in most other industrialized nations.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

(#172-1) March 24 2015. Ideology versus evidence? If you are a rugged individualist, ideology wins every time. It shouldn’t.




Lee Kwan Yew Taking His Oath as Senior Minister in 1990


The nation, reflected the man: efficient, unsentimental, incorrupt, inventive, forward-looking and pragmatic.

“We are ideology-free,” Mr. Lee said in an interview with The New York Times in 2007, stating what had become, in effect, Singapore’s ideology. “Does it work? If it works, let’s try it. If it’s fine, let’s continue it. If it doesn’t work, toss it out, try another one.”

His leadership was sometimes criticized for suppressing freedom, but the formula succeeded. Singapore became an international business and financial center admired for its efficiency and low level of corruption.

One of the widely touted lessons of the Soviet Economy is that a centrally planned economy cannot work—and that, therefore, unfettered capitalism has to be the best solution. This argument is extended by quoting a whole string of economies—from the Asian tigers to sundry former Soviet clients which have prospered—and are continuing to boom—under American-style capitalism.

This view is widely believed in the U.S. where anything that smacks of central planning is eschewed. It just doesn’t happen to be true. In fact it is a serious distortion of the reality and mainly serves as validation for egregious corporate power and the current American Business Model—which notably fails to deliver adequate economic benefits to most Americans.

A few ultra-rich do extraordinarily well. A significant minority—who are politically active—do well enough not want the status quo to change (partly because they don’t know any better). The majority struggle. The Middle Class shrinks. Economic insecurity and fear are widespread.

The track record—now proven over a wide range of economies of all sizes and nationalities (and over considerable time) is that a centrally planned mixed economy works best—by far. This is especially true if the basic needs of people such as healthcare, housing, education, an adequate pension system, and a social safety net are factored in. In short, you need a centrally planned, socially just, mixed economy where execution is largely de-centralized—and mainly carried out by the private sector.

It also needs to be pragmatic not ideological. The main criterion about an initiative should be solely: Does it work?

It is widely argued in the U.S. that such social ‘nannying’ of people reduces the willingness to work, innovation, and the entrepreneurial spirit.

The evidence is virtually all to the contrary. Entrepreneurship, for instance, in the highly risky U.S. economy is actually in decline.

I am prompted to write about this by the recent death of Lee Kwan Yew at 91. His achievements in transforming Singapore were just plain remarkable—and his influence has been worldwide.

Was he a democrat? Not by American standards—but then neither is the U.S. right now. We retain the trappings of a democracy but we are functionally a plutocracy that doesn’t deliver the kind of economy that most Americans need.

We need to think about all this a great deal more than we do. The evidence and the answers are out there—and they are best not viewed through a veil of ideology.

VOR words 511.

Monday, March 23, 2015

(#171-1) March 23 2015. Yes, I do miss Europe.





Writing has exceeded my wildest dreams.

When I wake I want to write. I crave it. I normally compose something in my head first—to prime the pump—and then I set to work. The greater the challenge, the greater the satisfaction. Writing is my joy.

Do I get everything right first time? Absolutely not. But, fortunately, I have come to love the re-writing process. Typically, I start off with something competent—but inadequate in some way—and then try and add some zest.

What do I mean by zest? I’m referring to something which will distinguish it in some way from the merely adequate.

Typically, it will be a quip, a joke, twist, or a punch line. It may just be a single word. It should make the end result more readable (make the reader want to know more).

If I am writing something serious (and depressing) about the U.S. economy that might be a stretch—but I try.

Where blogging is concerned, I rarely spend much time searching for the perfect word. My feeling is that I should blog within time constraints—and accept the limitations that inevitably result.

I’m more concerned about the clarity of the ideas they express and the discipline of getting one written every day—seven days a week. The process is demanding—seven days a week is not a trivial commitment—but immensely invigorating.

I get a writer’s high!

When I started writing I had no idea that writing would turn out to be so pleasurable—would become such a focus of my life. Back then I struggled to write because I felt an imperative to do so. But, I suffered for years. It took me a long time for writing to induce such happiness.

I would add ‘contentment,’ but I’m not sure a writer should be content. I rather value my restless mind.

Where purely creative writing is concerned, I tend to be more of a perfectionist. I don’t consciously write in a different way, but I do polish more, and think twice, before I consider a piece acceptable.

I don’t regard anything I write as good enough.

I never thought of adventuring in the sense of exploring the North Pole or anything similar. I’m not particularly physically brave—though I can have my moments.

Instead, I wanted to experience a wide variety of human situations—and get to know how the world worked a little better. I was particularly interested in different ways of life.

Why are the Swiss so Swiss? How do they do this stuff?

I wasn’t immune to the charms of women. They seemed to offer endless opportunities for adventure—and no small degree of pleasure. They are also, by and large, smarter than we males.

I was to find that women could also be quite dangerous. That aspect doesn’t seem to have changed much.

When I was young, the American Way of Life was touted as being the best—and it may have been so. I first visited the U.S. in the early Seventies and was impressed.

Sadly, I don’t think it is any longer.

Why do I miss Europe?

I guess that, deep down, I prefer a less materialistic consumer-driven environment—and I miss the character, culture, and sheer complexity of Europe. Also, I’m a historian so my heart is warmed by old buildings and a sense of history.

There is a great deal more I can say—and probably will—but now is not the time for it.

I will be 71 in May and have been giving serious thought to what I want, need, and can do for the rest of my life. My options are limited, but so are my wants. I am content with that—very much at peace with my focus.

Concerns for family and friends apart—a significant qualification—I have four ambitions.

Here are three of them.

  • To improve my character. I have had some success in this area, but there is room for improvement. I have a couple of weaknesses I would particularly like to master. I’m damned if I want to publish them as yet. Let me make no bones about it. They are weaknesses. Do I have strengths that compensate? I probably do. I don’t consider them good enough.
  • To get my little publishing company going. I have been delayed partly by my own imperfections—and partly by my accident of last year. On the other hand, the delays have improved my understanding of the project a great deal.
  • To write. I have a long list of projects lined up, but the two most important are my military thriller which I have re-titled, THE BATTLE DANCER,  and my memoirs, —CONFESSIONS OF A BOOK-WRITING MAN. My plan is to write this in five parts—and to make it explicit, humorous, fast paced, and outrageous. I have two follow-up major thrillers in the works. What is a major thriller? It is about 450 pages of heavily researched, highly entertaining, high adventure.

The fourth ambition concerns the opposite sex. It may well not be realized, but even at my age I rather fancy another romantic relationship.

Anyway, though I am quite self-sufficient and love most of what I do—which is to write—I have an open mind on the subject and I greatly enjoy women. Sometimes, they like me.

It would also make a neat ending for my memoirs. Besides, merely looking will be an adventure in itself.

The sentence is something of a cliché—but it it is true. As far as a writer is concerned, everything is material.




VOR words 963.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

(#170-1) March 22 2015. The notion that most of the soil we use to grow crops in is being poisoned—annually—is somewhat disconcerting. Say it ain’t so! I can’t, because it looks like it is.




Many of the problems with our food chain—such as the poor quality of Fast Food (and most centrally prepared food used by restaurants in general) and the fact that excessive quantities of salt, fat, sugar, and chemicals being added to over-processed food—are widely known (if inadequately acted upon) but the glyphosate issue  is one that does not get the attention it deserves.

Glyphosate is the main active ingredient of Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer and is much used with GM (genetically modified) crops. The GM modified crops can be sprayed but only the weeds die. The kicker, of course, is not only have you got to buy Roundup, itself—but also the GM seeds. You have become the captive customer of a monopoly.

Another problem is that, over time, more and more weeds have become immune to Roundup. This wasn’t supposed to happen—but it has.

It deserves special attention because it is so ubiquitous. Roundup is now so widely applied that glyphosate is pervasive and almost impossible to avoid—even if you make a conscious decision to do so. It is used almost universally where corn and soy are grown—and both corn and soy are added to numerous processed foods (even foods where you would not suspect their presence).

Monsanto have long argued that Roundup is safe and glyphosate degrades so fast it poses no heath hazard—but ever increasing evidence argues to the contrary. Beyond that, it is quite clear that neither the Department of Agriculture nor the Food and Drug Administration have either researched or regulated Roundup adequately. Corporate power is now such that it seems increasingly able to defy regulations—and to blunt investigations.

Though the evidence against it seems to be increasing, I don’t profess to know the truth of the Roundup situation. I have become convinced that the U.S. Food Chain is deeply flawed and hazardous to our health—but apart from taking reasonable precautions and writing about it, I’m not quite sure what else I can do except continue to monitor it.

I do note repeatedly that Americans live shorter lives than the citizens of many other developed nations—by about three years—and are sicker while they live. I also note that there has been a significant increase in medical conditions in the U.S. across the spectrum over the last few decades.

We then come to the sobering fact that the nutritional quality of much of our food has deteriorated massively. An apple today lacks the quantity of trace elements which an apple of half a century ago possessed. Since our bodies require such trace elements, we have yet another health issue here. We have the illusion of nutrition but not the reality—and suffer the consequences. Our immune systems are not as robust, for example.

The good news is that a great deal can be done to remedy the situation—and we now know that regenerative agriculture can grow the vast quantities of food we need as efficiently as monoculture (if not more so). However, those who profit from the status quo—such as Monsanto—like things just fine the way they are.

In fact, Big Agriculture and Big Food fight bitterly and often effectively against our knowing exactly what is in our food. The opposition to foodstuffs being labeled GM is a recent example of this.

It is interesting to note that almost all America’s current problems, from corruption of the political process, to financialization, to militarization to healthcare, to the poor quality of our food chain, can be traced to unchecked corporate power. The issue is less capitalism as such, but our form of it.

Are we doing anything about it?

In Europe, yes.

In the U.S. no.

VOR words 655.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

(#169-1) March 21 2015. There is a mismatch between the high quality, and sheer decency, of my friends—and the prevailing culture. That said, I like most Americans I meet so I’m puzzled at this dichotomy. Or does scum—as well as talent—naturally rise to the top (and gravitate to CEO status or Congress)? My point is that the the U.S.—at the top—does not appear to work too well. At a lower level, it works much better.




I haven’t done a head-count, but as best as I can tell, the majority of my friends are American—and, though being human, none are perfect, they are an admirable lot. Mind you, I am biased—and strongly at that. They are, after all, my friends—and I hold such people in high regard.

I would like to be able to praise my brilliance and impeccable judgment for the qualities of my friends, but—truth to tell—I think they are no more than a cross-section of the people I have met over the last quarter century who I happened to get on with—and vice-versa. In short, I suspect that they are fairly typical rather than a-typical of their nationality, socio-economics groups, and professions.

If I then conclude that my friends are fairly representative of Americans as a whole—which I admit may be a leap too far—I then have to wonder why the U.S. doesn’t work better than it does; and why Americans, in general, aren’t doing more to change the direction of this Great Nation..

‘Work better’ covers a multitude, but my main focus is on wondering why the U.S. doesn’t provide a more secure and stress-free economic way of life for all who live here. After all, other countries are succeeding in this fundamental regard—so why not the U.S.?

As to why more Americans aren’t trying to change the direction of the direction of the country, I have several thoughts on the matter.

  • FATALISM. People feel helpless and incapable of making a difference so there is no point in trying—or even worrying about it.
  • SELF-SATISFACTION. Despite what they say—many people are actually pretty satisfied with the status quo and with their personal circumstances in particular. The ultra-rich and those who serve them (a category which indirectly includes most of my friends with military connections—though I doubt they think of it this way) would come into this substantial minority. It comprises at least 20 percent of the population—and probably more. Such people tend to be much more politically active than the deprived. This is a crucial point to note. Those who do well out of the status quo will fight furiously to defend it—even if it is blatantly unjust. The deprived tend to be fatalistic and, largely, don’t vote. This is a fundamental weakness of democracy.
  • BAD INFORMATION—AND SELFISHNESS. People are not particularly well informed about society as a whole and don’t think in terms of social concern. They focus almost completely upon their personal circumstances. You can conclude that such an attitude is no more than sensible—or extremely selfish.
  • OR, I COULD BE WRONG. It could be that my analysis—which concludes that the U.S. is in serious trouble right now, and is heading in the wrong direction—is incorrect. I think about that quite often. My conclusion, so far, is that I am broadly accurate, but don’t know enough detail. The situation is, arguably, more nuanced than as described. The only alternative I can be left with is that the evidence is wrong.

One thing I do notice is that my American friends accept a great deal which a European would have a problem with. In many cases we are talking a matter of degree. Money, for instance, plays no small role in European life, but isn’t so relentlessly dominant.

To give another example, many things are supported in Europe because they are regarded as good in themselves—not because they make a profit. The concept of doing something for the public good is much better established in Europe. Being green, recycling, and using less energy have become part of Northern European culture, for instance.

The following are some of the issues which would trouble a European—and do concern this particular one.

  • MONEY. The dominance of money in the U.S.. It seems to be the one constant—and is certainly the prevailing religion. Judging by their style, it seems to have been adopted by all too many U.S. churches (in direct and specific defiance of the bible).
  • CORRUPTION. The prevalence of corruption. This is based less on traditional paper bags of bank notes than on customs and practices which are blatantly wrong, but now so institutionalized as to be regarded as normal. These span the gamut from conflicts of interest in the MICC (Military Industrial Congressional Complex) to share buy-backs by corporations (which are no less than insider trading). The current American Business Model, which is largely focused solely on maximizing shareholder value, is deeply corrupt. For instance, it is just plain morally wrong to treat employees with such indifference—and to have no regard for the community which gave legal birth to you.
  • INCOME INEQUALITY. Excessive income inequality. The system is tilted so blatantly to favor the rich that I can only describe my reaction as incredulous.
  • RELENTLESS PROPAGANDA. The dominance of hype and propaganda in the media. It seems as if someone is always trying to sell you something—and the level of advertising seems both excessive and relentless.
  • CORPORATE POWER. Corporate power, predatory managements, and their widespread indifference to any kind of social responsibility add up to a pretty toxic commercial environment. As other countries demonstrate each and every day, it doesn’t have to be this way.
  • FINANCIALIZATION OF THE ECONOMY. Wall Street should be a service designed to allocate resources to the real economy. Instead, it is overly intrusive and influential to the point of being a corrupting and distorting influence. As matters stand, the system that has resulted forces most people into debt—car, house, education, and medical. If you have an average income, it is near impossible to survive without debt.
  • THE DECLINE IN INTERPRENEURSHIP. The U.S. now ranks 12th in business startup activity. The ‘can-do’ quality which so distinguished the U.S. has been diminishing for years.
  • EARNINGS DECLINE. The fact that the earnings—in real terms—have scarcely advanced since the 70s and have been declining since the Great Recession beggars belief—and cannot have a happy ending.
  • BOUGHT POLITICAL SYSTEM. Political gridlock—heavily linked to corporate power.
  • BUREAUCRACY. Bureaucracy. For legal and other reasons, this is the most astonishingly bureaucratic country. Believe it or not, when I visited my general practitioner in Ireland—assuming the man had my basic records—no additional paperwork was involved. 
  • BROKEN HEALTHCARE SYSTEM. The high cost, mediocre quality, and lack of transparency of healthcare boggles the mind—and the end result costs nearly twice as much as the systems of other development countries—and Americans live sicker and die roughly three years sooner. That should spark outrage. Alarmingly, it does not..
  • MEDIOCRE EDUCATION. Mediocre educational system. There is much comment on this. The aspect that Americans forget are the consequences. Huge numbers of the people you deal with on a day to day basis are inadequately educated.
  • STUDENT DEBT. Costly third level education. This is so structured that it is near impossible to get free of. Concurrently, the Fed supplies trillions of dollars at near zero interest rates to the banks. Precisely how is that socially just?
  • LACK OF WORKER RIGHTS. Lack of worker rights combined with the steady erosion of such worker rights as remain.
  • MINIMAL VACATIONS. Lack of vacations. There are all kinds of good vacations why vacations of reasonable length are considered essential in Europe—and health comes high on the list. It is hard to see why the same necessities do not apply in the U.S.
  • NEGLECT OF THE ARTS. The arts are seen only as a profit center.
  • MILITARIZATION OF THE POLICE. This is particularly noticeable to me because my background is in Ireland and the UK where the police—except for a small group—are not even armed.
  •  MINIMAL SOCIAL SAFETY NET. The lack of an adequate social safety net.
  • RACISM. Racism remains pervasive in the U.S.
  • AROGANT FOREIGN POLICY. The arrogance and militarization of foreign policy.
  • AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM. The assumption that the American Way of Life is superior in all things.
  • LACK OF INTELLECTUAL CURIOUSITY. The general lack of intellectual curiosity—particularly in relation to other nations. Europeans, who mostly speak at least one second language (the British and Irish excepted) tend to look outwards and be aware in considerable of detail of other nations and their developments. In contrast, Americans are largely ignorant of other countries—and don’t seem to be remotely curious. In fact, many know little enough about this country.
  • LACK OF SOCIAL JUSTICE. The lack of social justice, general insecurity, and callousness of American life.

From a purely material point of view, there are numerous compensations to American life—if you have an adequate income (though most Americans do not). From a philosophical aspect—particularly where values are concerned—the current practices and direction of this Great Nation are exceedingly troubling. ‘Troubling’ understates the situation. This is a nation heading, at speed, towards catastrophe.

I write about these issues—not because I think I can change them (though I hope to influence a few readers) but because I am innately interested. The U.S. has been such a huge influence on my life—on the lives of just about every human being since WW II—that I was extremely curious to see it first hand (whatever be my conclusions).

I regard it as as a real privilege that I have been able to—and in considerable detail at that. Being deeply interested in Roman history, I have always wanted to go back in time to visit Rome—but, since I have not acquired a time machine as yet, the U.S. has proved to be a good substitute. It, too, is an empire—and it, too, is in decline.

I am also aware that if I was an American and financially comfortable, I would—quite possibly—be largely indifferent to the issues I have listed. Nonetheless, social indifference does not mean that such serious problems don’t exist—and don’t have consequences.

I regard the most serious problem as the general lack of concern by Americans as a whole. People are certainly fed up with many things, but I see scant evidence that people think the American Way of Life needs to be re-thought. The general desire seem to be to make the status quo work better.

The great argument in favor of the American Way of life used to be that it resulted in a superior quality of life—as was demonstrated by the U.S. Middle Class in the 70s.

That may or may not have been true then—but it certainly is not the case now. Under just about every category you care to name (except house size) Northern Europeans are better off, more secure, have better health coverage, and live three years longer.

A thousand extra days of life. That strikes me as no small thing.

One might think such a sea-change would attract more attention in the U.S. than it does.

It doesn’t because most Americans are not aware of this situation. The mainstream media—TV as far as most Americans are concerned—quite deliberately, do a lousy job. They foster a media illusion which encourages a consuming public—even if that consuming public lacks the purchasing power to consume adequately.  Debt is pushed as the easy and socially acceptable alternative.

Sooner or later, a reckoning of ferocious, and violent, social consequence would seem to be inevitable.

Why do I mention violence? I do so most reluctantly—but violence is as endemic to American life as Fast Food.

Both are lethal.


<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/11/republicans-gerrymandering-house-representatives-election-chart">Mother Jones</a>

In some states, gerrymandering is rendering the will of the electorate almost irrelevant

The fact that the U.S. voting process is so blatantly corrupt leaves me damn near speechless. You would think that after so much time since the foundation of this state, voting, at least, would be perfected. Instead, gerrymandering apart, serious attempts are being made to restrict the ability of the less affluent to vote. 

Trust in gov

Trust in government is at about its lowest point in 40 years

Where trust in government is concerned, the disturbing thing is that it has been deliberately destroyed in a systematic way by Big Business. Why so? Because government represents taxes, regulations, and the ability to keep  business in check.

I don’t say this lightly. The evolution of a very deliberate campaign in the Seventies to reverse the gains labor made from the New Deal is well documented.

A further point is that if you lose faith in Government, who do you turn to? By a process of elimination, it is business—and Big Business at that.

Personally, I don’t regard U.S. business as any more trustworthy than government. When the two combine, the result tends to be toxic. Consider U.S. healthcare and the MICC (Military Industrial Congressional Complex). Consider the U.S. food chain. Consider Wall Street and the general impact of financialization.

It is hard to find words adequate to describe the damage done—which largely continues to be done. The track record is clear. Whereas admirable corporations certainly do exist, the general thrust of Big Business is to oppose anything and everything which might improve the lot of workers and society in general.

VOR words 2,182.