Saturday, January 31, 2015

(#123-1) January 31 2015. Are we ostriches?

SUCH A BIG ISSUE

SO LITTLE ADDRESSED

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

ARE THERE SOLUTIONS TO STAGNANT PAY IN THE U.S. ? AND WHY DO WE CALL IT STAGNANT WHEN IT’S REALLY IN DECLINE?

Alan Krueger: the shrinking middle-class

It seems to have taken the media an incredibly long time to catch up with the fact that the American Business Model (ABM) isn’t working as far as most Americans are concerned—and even now they are more nibbling around the edges than addressing the core issue—which is the ABM itself. Stagnant pay is merely a symptom—albeit a very significant one.

This what that excellent journalist, David Leonhardt of the New York Times has to say about what he chooses to call ‘stagnant’ pay. There seems to be general aversion to facing up to that emotive word ‘declining.’ However, when costs go up as much as healthcare, education and housing have—whatever about the temporary advantages of less expensive oil—pay, in real terms, is in decline.

Wages and incomes for most Americans have now been stagnant for 15 years. They rose at a mediocre pace for much of President Bush’s tenure in the 2000s, before falling sharply during the financial crisis that dominated the end of his presidency. Mr. Obama helped break the back of the crisis, but the recovery on his watch has been decidedly mediocre, too — especially in terms of paychecks.

Even as job growth has picked up in recent months, wages haven’t grown much more quickly than inflation. As a result, the government’s official statistics suggest that the typical American household makes no more than the typical household did in the final years of the 20th century.

That’s remarkable. There is little modern precedent for a period of income stagnation lasting as long as this one. Official records don’t exist before World War II. But the best estimate is that the Great Depression may be the only other modern time in which incomes for most households in the United States have grown so slowly — or not at all — for so long.

The great wage slowdown has several main causes: globalization, which has forced Americans to compete with hundreds of millions of poorer workers from around the world; technological change, which allows machines to replace human labor in new ways; the slowdown in American educational attainment, even as the rest of the world has continued to become more educated and more highly skilled; and the shifting balance of economic power, away from workers and toward companies and their executives.

The wage slowdown is the dominant force in American politics and will continue to be as long as it exists. Nothing drives the national mood — and, by extension, national politics — the way that the country’s economic mood does, as political scientists have demonstrated. And nothing drives the economic mood as much as wages and incomes, which are the main determinant of material living standards for most households.

Lenonhardt describes the pay issue with some elegance—I’m a great admirer of his writing—but he doesn’t address the ABM issue and fails to come up with solutions.

I’m not going to go into detail about solutions either, but let me make some points.

  • As the track record in other countries shows, stagnant pay is not inevitable even in developed countries dealing with globalization.
  • Stagnant pay exists here in the U.S. because of a whole series of political decisions which have tilted the playing field fairly steeply to favor capital over labor. The system is rigged in almost ever way in favor of the ultra rich and their followers—and the corporations they own and operate—against labor. This shows in the tax system, in corporate welfare, in the relative absence of worker rights—and so on. All in all, there is a massive bias against labor which has included the near complete crushing of the unions in the private sector. They are currently under serious assault in the public sector.
  • The problem has been compounded by a whole series of trade deals which  encouraged globalization without compensating the American worker. Corporations can export jobs with impunity or use the threat of doing so to force down pay.
  • Neither political party seems really interested in modifying the ABM to make it fair and balanced because both are substantially funded by the ultra rich and corporate interests.

The bottom line is that we have a totally solvable situation which vested interests do not want to resolve for very clear and understandable selfish reasons.

Will anything change the situation? A nationwide populist movement could, but there seems little sign of one emerging—and if one does start, our militarized and heavily policed  surveillance state has all the tools available to monitor it, penetrate it, and snuff it out—and they will. The Occupy movement demonstrated just that. It had the potential to become a national populist movement but its was infiltrated, opposed in a wide variety of ways, and effectively neutralized. It still exists, and does much good work—but it has been contained and transformed into a manageable threat. The status quo marches on.

We have the trappings of democracy these days—the entertainment aspect (and we do so love to be entertained) but not the substance. That has been bought the people with the money and they have now no intention of parting with it.

The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”(Benjamin Franklin)

We have failed to do so. We now have an oligarchy. Can we get it back? Most of us don’t seem to be aware that we’ve lost it—or overly concerned if they, personally, are doing alright. And if they are living in or near poverty they are too busy surviving to do anything.

VOR words 701.


Friday, January 30, 2015

(#122-1) January 30 2015. The secret of life is asking the right questions. Finding the answers is the easy part. Getting people to listen to the answers is another matter entirely.

THIS INCREASINGLY DIGITAL LIFE OF OURS

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

SERVANT OR MASTER?

Just because an innovation happens doesn’t mean that you have to embrace it—though social pressures are such that it often seems that way. I guess that built into all of us (even those of us who are regarded as out-of-the-box thinkers, like myself) is a rather disconcerting desire to conform .

It’s easier to conform. You become accepted. You are one of the guys. You may even become popular.  You go along to get along. 

I try and resist it, but I certainly accept that it is a force to be reckoned with. It is also a force which those who work so had to manipulate us make full use of.

Socialization is good. Social control is necessary. We are a Nation of Laws (but who makes them?). The rules are there for a reason. Of course you must have a Facebook page. How else can you keep up with your family and friends? Texting on a phone is IN—talking is OUT. But you tell more from a voice—tone, inflection, accent, emotion. Quite so—far too revealing. Besides, texting leaves a permanent record. Easier for Big Data to handle.

Manipulate us? Am  I paranoid?

In this context I don’t think it matters whether I’m paranoid or not. It seems to me that this is self-evident that this is a heavily manipulated and conditioned society. Who does the manipulation?  Commercial interests, government, the media, and our very culture.

If we were not so manipulated, conditioned, distracted, deluded, and entertained, we would be questioning our current culture and way of life a great deal more than we do—and we would certainly be outraged at the dysfunctionality of our current system of government, excessive corporate power, the fact that we seem to be permanently at war for no good reason, the extortion racket that is our healthcare service, the fact that a fifth of our children grow up in poverty, and a host of other issues that there really isn’t the space to discuss here—but which add up to an excessively stressful life for most of us. We would also know a great deal more about the ways of life in other countries so that we had a basis of comparison—and could learn and improve.

Back to the issue at hand.

Before I started using the internet—which I am staggered to find was all of 20 years ago—I worked about  a third as hard and divided my time between reading, walking, and writing –with months in the field researching as well. Researching typically involved travel—so for GAMES OF THE HANGMAN, I spent nearly three months in Switzerland, for RULES OF THE HUNT I went to Japan (after a year of meticulous preparation by my brilliant—and extremely attractive assistant, Jill Kennedy), for THE DEVIL’S FOOTPRINT I spent time with the 82nd Airborne Division—and so on. I tend to be solitary while writing (in that I write alone)  but extremely social when in the field. In essence, though a sense of place is important, my stories are character driven and my characters are inspired by real people in most cases.

By the way, I rarely take one person and fictionalize him or her. Instead, though one person may have inspired the character, the end result is normally based upon a blend of human experiences and fictionalized into the bargain.

Overall, I didn’t much concern myself with marketing (more fool me). Like most authors in those days, I focused almost entirely on the creative aspect and left the commercial aspects to my agent and publishers.

My agent and publishers did a pretty lousy job—as they did with most writers in those days (and not much has changed) but at least I had the time to focus solely on the creative aspects—and focus is absolutely integral to writing.

Two decades ago—when I still lived in Ireland—I started using the internet over a slow dial-up connection; and since then my life has become increasingly digital to the point where my work pattern has changed completely.

Am I pleased or disturbed by the results?

Both—though on balance I feel my life has been significantly enriched. But, I still haven’t worked out how to organize my time correctly, I have some issues with the pressures which a digital life imposes., and I miss just chilling out while my subconscious solves my creative issues.

My subconscious does most of the work. I just type it in and claim the credit. I read somewhere that one’s subconscious has no morals. That could explain a lot.

It seems strange to say that I don’t yet know how to organize my day (at the age of 70 after nearly three decades as a committed author) but it is no more than the truth. I certainly do have a routine, but am far from sure it is the right routine as yet.

This isn’t to say that I’m not more productive—I am vastly more productive, knowledgeable and facile—and have a zest for my work and life in general which I didn’t have all those years ago. Nonetheless, I still haven’t figured out how to do all of what needs to be done. There is too much to learn and too much to do—and my computer skills, albeit much improved, are not what they might be.

Some observations on the changes.

  • I now routinely work 12 hours a day and frequently more. I used to work 7 or 8, but take time off for long walks. I still walk, but not for hours the way I used to. I intend to do something about that for both health and creative reasons. I have found that walking is the ultimate aid to thinking—and thinking is what makes for good writing (and a rich life in general).
  • I am reading as much as ever and possibly more—but fewer books. I regret that greatly. Will I go back to books? I truly hope so.
  • I don’t have a TV at present and don’t much miss it. I’m now either working or socializing by phone in the evening—and regard that as progress. If am doing household chores I listen to the radio—which I love. I regard NPR as an absolute gift.
  • I’m now pretty much on top of my areas of interest—or know where to go for the information. That constitutes what I call my “base of knowledge.” I will then do extra research to flesh out detail as necessary. In truth, I now already know a great deal of what I think I will need to know for the books that I plan to write during the balance of my life. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing—or a vaguely depressing one. It is not that I don’t think I’ll have new ideas—more that I’m full of ideas, know how long books takes to write, and doubt I’ll live for ever. But you never know!
  • I’m now writing both faster and better. Blogging has helped me greatly in that regard—and not only is it terrific exercise for the brain, but it is therapeutic. But so is all writing. Can I justify the time it takes? No—not in a measurable financial sense. Is it worth it? Yes—it has been truly transformative.
  • Where writing is concerned, I can now get into the zone near instantly, but find I have to break away from creative writing more than I like because there are other matters to do with my digital life to attend to. I’m not overly keen on that. I prefer to get into a writing mindset and stay in it for a considerable period—weeks ideally. Those days seem to be over.
  • E-mail is my number one digital problem. I have cut back drastically on my information sources—but I’m still not up to date with my correspondence . Will I ever be? I think I probably will, but it will take another year or two—and some more software—to evolve a system to cope fully. Meanwhile, though I try to attend to urgent matters near immediately, it can take me months to reply to courtesy e-mails.
  • I have a cell, but not a smartphone. I try and limit calls during my work day because they break focus—though I’m happy to talk for hours with friends in the evening. I can’t stand texting though plan to try it. Why so? Women like it—and I like women.
  • Social Media. Blogging and Linkedin (which I like) apart, I continue to have mixed feelings about Social Media. It seems to soak up an amazing amount of time which I would prefer to spend reading or writing. Nonetheless, it is clear I’ll have to become ever more active in it in order to aid my marketing. I regard this business of an author needing a substantial social media profile in order to sell books as quite a burden—but still better than the indifference of most traditional publishers. The downside is that most writers are neither equipped by temperament or formal training to self promote. As it happens, I am formally trained in marketing. Not sure about my temperament, but I’m certainly not innately a self-promoter. When growing up, the expression, “Not done, old chap,” summed it up. Now it has to be done no matter how shy and introverted you are.
  • I’m a great fan of the internet as such for a whole host of reasons including the convenience of being able to check one’s fact on the fly. Yes, there are disadvantages—and some sectors like online dating are a minefield—but, overall, I think it is a totally phenomenal resource. Could I write without it? Of course—but, in practice, I am dependent on it. I don’t like that dependency—but I both accept it and admit it..

I have been prompted to write about all this by a rather surprising statement by well known blogger, Andrew Sullivan—founder  of www.dish.andrewsullivan.com 

I want to let you know I’ve decided to stop blogging in the near future.

Why? Two reasons. The first is one I hope anyone can understand: although it has been the most rewarding experience in my writing career, I’ve now been blogging daily for fifteen years straight (well kinda straight). That’s long enough to do any single job. In some ways, it’s as simple as that. There comes a time when you have to move on to new things, shake your world up, or recognize before you crash that burn-out does happen.

The second is that I am saturated in digital life and I want to return to the actual world again. I’m a human being before I am a writer; and a writer before I am a blogger, and although it’s been a joy and a privilege to have helped pioneer a genuinely new form of writing, I yearn for other, older forms. I want to read again, slowly, carefully. I want to absorb a difficult book and walk around in my own thoughts with it for a while. I want to have an idea and let it slowly take shape, rather than be instantly blogged. I want to write long essays that can answer more deeply and subtly the many questions that the Dish years have presented to me. I want to write a book.

I want to spend some real time with my parents, while I still have them, with my husband, who is too often a ‘blog-widow’, my sister and brother, my niece and nephews, and rekindle the friendships that I have simply had to let wither because I’m always tied to the blog. And I want to stay healthy. I’ve had increasing health challenges these past few years. They’re not HIV-related; my doctor tells me they’re simply a result of fifteen years of daily, hourly, always-on-deadline stress. These past few weeks were particularly rough – and finally forced me to get real.

This is sad news. He is a great talent and will be missed from the blogging world.

VOR words, c.1,700.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

(#121-1) January 29 2015. Why do Europeans live so much longer than we do? And why do we live sicker?

ARE WE POISONING OURSELVES—SLOWLY, BUT INEXORABLY?

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

BILL MAHER THINGS SO—AND SO DO I. WHAT ARE WE POISONING OURSELVES WITH? OUR FOOD AND ENVIRONMENT (AND MAYBE OUR WAY OF LIFE—WE CONSUME TOO MUCH AND DO TOO LITTLE).

‘Poisoning’ is such a dramatic word. Surely I should use a lesser term like “sub-optimally feeding ourselves?”

I guess if I strangle you, you will be sub-optimally breathing. God preserve us from corporate-speak (the Pentagon equivalent is not much different).

One of my core principles as a writer is to be clear, so let me start off by quoting the first definition of poison from dictionary.com.

a substance with an inherent property that tends to destroy life or impair health.

I really do mean that we are poisoning ourselves. We are ingesting stuff that is destroying life and impairing health—normally several times a day (and frequently in excess).

It might not be too good for Big Food’s commercial prospects, but it would be a great deal clearer if the poison concerned was strychnine—and the victim dropped down dead virtually immediately—but the only difference is time.

Either way, our lives are being made shorter, and the quality of our lives is being adversely affected, by what we are eating and drinking. Either way—not to put too fine a point on it—we are being poisoned.

The fact that we prefer not to think about all this while numbing ourselves with legal drugs (and variations thereof)  and other distractions, doesn’t affect the reality.

Not that I want to depress you, you understand.

I really don’t like addressing such a gloomy subject, but one of the reasons we socially concerned writers exist is to make you pause and think—and preferably do.

Strange that such a sedentary bunch as writers should be action oriented—but there it is. From our point of view, words are action—though sadly not enough by themselves. But the idea is to light a fuse—to evoke a sense of well-justified outrage.

Luther, Jefferson, and Marx did it. Words are powerful things. I haven’t done it yet (as much as I would like) but I am ever the optimist.

I prefer to think of myself as a realist with a positive outlook. Optimists tend to be starry-eyed, and few writers remain that way for long. We live with rejection and failure. Why we do it is pretty weird, when you think about it—and yet we love it so. It’s rather like having a difficult mistress who is good in bed.

It’s tough to do in the U.S. because everybody knows we are the best in the world at everything so what could we possibly have to learn?

Other writers, of course, have very different views, think the marketplace will provide, and regard the fact that over half the U.S. population lives paycheck to paycheck—with virtually no wealth or savings—to be just peachy. Hell, it keeps wage costs down.

That it does—at a huge cost in human misery and taxpayer dollars, and at the expense of the vibrancy of the economy. People who don’t earn enough can’t buy—so you end up with sluggish growth (if any) due to lack of demand.

Do what?

Improve the human condition in some way. Fix the hole in the roof. Help the homeless. Think twice before you saturate your yard with some pesticide which will be dissolved into runoff and end up causing fish in the local river to be two headed hermaphrodites.

I’m making this up?

No, I’m not. I truly wish I was..

I have now been studying the U.S. economy, way of life, and culture for ten years—in addition to my normal writing—and the facts of the case are pretty clear—as are the consequences. As for evidence to support my findings, it is overwhelming. But evidence of truly bad things happening doesn’t seem to result in change if most people regard such unpleasantness as normal—better than the alternatives—and something they can’t do anything about anyway.

In total contradiction to its image of a ‘can-do’ culture, Americans have become quite remarkably fatalistic. In fact, a combination of propaganda, social control, inadequate media, and ignorance seems to have drained the fight out of most of us. We work, we drug ourselves, we escape into the distraction of incessant entertainment—we get sicker sooner, and die younger..

We consume obsessively.

We could change things.There is virtually nothing wrong with this extraordinary country that can’t be changed with relative ease. However, the ultra-rich have learned how to buy those who rule us, and they have no intention of giving up control. They like the status quo just fine.

The following are my findings regarding the poisoning issue.

  • Many of our medical conditions—perhaps most—stem from our massive pollution of the environment and the industrialization of our agriculture.
  • The combination of monoculture and factory farming is disastrous. We are producing ever less nutritious food which is contaminated in a wide variety of ways from herbicides and pesticides to antibiotics. A apple today is not as nutritious as an apple of 50 years ago. We have traded quantity for quality.
  • The soil we use to grow cops in is becoming progressively less fertile. The various trace elements that are needed to produce nutritious crops are being depleted. Fertilizer alone does not compensate.
  • We are using something like 80,000 chemicals without having much of an idea whether they are safe or not—let alone in combination. In Europe, a chemical has to be proven safe before it may be used. In the U.S. virtually anything can be used unless proven harmful. Doing that is both expensive and difficult given the generally pro-business bias of both the legislation and the courts.
  • Our food chain is seriously corrupted. We start off with the fact that both our air and water are polluted in a truly staggering number of ways. We then move on to soil depletions. We add herbicides, insecticides and quite unnecessary antibiotics—and throw in appalling conditions where animals are concerned. We then move on to the food processing industry itself which does terrible things to the raw material. In particular, fats, salt, and sugar in added in excess—together with ‘fillers’ and a truly staggering array of additives. Finally, we top off the whole disastrous sequence with fast food and restaurants whose so called freshly cooked food is actually factory produced (with its attendant limitations).
  • The FDA is not doing its job in too many ways to list. The fact that antibiotic overuse has not been banned speaks for itself. Already, many thousands of Americans are dying because they have become immune to antibiotics. And we worry about terrorism. A chicken breast is a greater threat.

Poisoning is not not the only reason why those pesky Europeans outlive us by such a huge margin (roughly an extra 1,000 days of life) but I submit that it is a substantial one. Other factors include.

  • Stress
  • Inadequate vacations.
  • Poor working conditions.
  • Poverty.
  • A truly inadequate and ridiculously expensive healthcare system—coupled with our excessive reliance on meds (which mostly have adverse side-effects).
  • Our culture of violence.

VOR words 1158.


 

 

 

 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

(#120-1) January 28 2015. This may sound ridiculous to some, but when the evidence changes, I change my mind.

THOUGHTS ON

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

EVIDENCE BASED THINKING.

DOES HOW WE THINK MATTER? DO FACTS MATTER?

drug deaths

YET TOBACCO IS LEGAL AND MARIJUANA IS—LARGELY—NOT?

IF YOU ACCEPT THE EVIDENCE--

THAT MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL.

When you come right down to it, writing is really about thinking—and then endeavoring to convert your thoughts into the written word.

How hard can that be? After all, we all think (a point the less than charitable might debate)—and surely converting a thought into words is a simple transition?

I would like to be able to say that clear writing indicates clarity of mind, but my mind, at any rate, less resembles a neat row of filing cabinets than a vast pile of different thoughts—more than a few that are conflicting.

The advantage of such mental confusion is that thoughts that shouldn’t connect bump into each other—with all kinds of interesting results. Paradoxically, mental confusion can lead to creativity. It can also be exhausting. Thinking, as any reader of this blog will, I hope, know—is hard work. Indeed, it can be downright stressful.

Though I have no illusions that I am entirely successful at the task—I have my own prejudices and biases like anyone else—I try and think as logically as I can in order to put some order upon disorder.

I need order so that I can write. James Joyce could get away with stream of consciousness—having an excellent sex life helped—but most of us need structured sentences that make sense (or at least fool the reader that they do). To that end—leaving style out of it for the moment—I try to base my conclusions on the best evidence available. I tend to think of it as “following the logic of the argument.”

Quite why I think of it this way is something of a mystery to me, but sometimes a word or a phrase seems to capture an idea better than the alternatives like “commonsense.” Words have their own particular magic.

What I accept as reality, but am not in sympathy with, is a tendency for a great many people to allow prejudice to determine their conclusions even in the face of conflicting evidence. It is certainly the easiest approach, because you don’t have to think—but doesn’t an inner voice scream at you and say: “Look at the facts, you dolt!”

Apparently not. This raises the question of defining one’s inner voice. I’m not sure I can with any precision. All I know is that these days it tends to be extraordinarily powerful and rarely leads me astray. It feel rather as if my conscience has taken a course in editing and literary criticism. The damn thing is merciless.

My suspicion is that the primary reason why so many of us chose to ignore the known facts of a situation isn’t because of blind prejudice—that is just a cover. It is because our perceived short-term interests are best served by ignoring the evidence.

In short, in their own way, they are following the logic of the argument.

Well, that makes sense in a kind of senseless way, but the end result of such prevalent attitudes is that a truly extraordinary amount of societal behavior is conditioned by either no evidence at all—or remarkably little. If you want a case history to support that thesis, look no further than the medical profession. A significant amount of what they do has no scientific basis.

And I have the evidence to prove it.

VOR words 558.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

(#119-1A) January 27 2015) The only trouble with bubbles—such beautiful things—is that they have a habit of bursting.

IS THE DOOMSDAY CLOCK A GOOD OR BAD IDEA?

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

IT HAS JUST BEEN MOVED FORWARD TWO TICKS—TO THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT? WHY?

This rather cool story came from Business Week—now owned by Bloomberg. It seems to be a natural fit.

I have been reading BW all my adult life and rate it highly. It isn’t mindlessly pro-business—and it interprets its mandate broadly. Its an outstanding publication. The story was written by Tony Randall.

“World leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required,” the Security Board wrote in a statement today. “In 2015, unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity.”

The Doomsday Clock was established in 1947 by Manhattan Project scientists who built the world’s first atomic bomb. The idea was to create a visible symbol to help the public understand the threats humanity has foisted upon itself. The group’s Security Board meets twice a year to determine the threat level. Advisers to the board include 17 Nobel prize laureates.

Since the clock was first set in 1947, it’s been adjusted 18 times. The safest period was from 1991 to 1994, when the clock was 17 minutes from midnight. The last time the clock was this close to the apocalypse of midnight was during the Cold War tensions of the mid-1980s. The clock was last adjusted, by one minute, in 2012.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said the following actions must be taken to roll the clock back:

  • Cap greenhouse gas emissions at levels that would keep global warming below 2C (3.6F)
  • Dramatically cut spending on nuclear weapons modernization
  • Reinvigorate the nuclear disarmament process
  • Deal with the problem of nuclear waste

My impression is that the Doomsday Clock is a nice idea (perhaps not the best choice of words) which doesn’t work. Most of us live in our own bubbles and have a hard time coming to terms with issues outside those bubbles. Perhaps we are genetically programmed that way.

As a writer of the intellectually curious variety, I tend to think outside the bubble (arguably to the neglect of my own immediate interests), but find myself conflicted by the nuclear issue.

Based upon my research, I believe in the potential of nuclear power though don’t think we are doing it right yet. Thorium looks to be worth exploring—as do much smaller distributed pebble bed nuclear reactors (which you will know all about, of course).

Though I believe sustainable energy from wind, solar and ocean sources will come to dominate, we are still likely to need a consistent base from the grid unless we have a storage breakthrough. Will we? Probably—but I doubt that storage will be cheaper than nuclear could be (though local storage to even out the bumps looks interesting)..

All conjecture, let me stress. Nobody, by definition, really knows about breakthroughs that have not, as yet, happened. But we do know that despite the horrific capital costs, nuclear reactors are low cost produces of electricity.

On the other hand, nuclear weapons give me the creeps and I think it is only a matter of time before some people with hostile intent lay their hands on such weapons and use them against us.

I doubt they will use missiles—although it is certainly possible.

The most likely outcome is that multiple nuclear weapons will be infiltrated into multiple locations and exploded simultaneously. Alternatively, they will just be delivered by FedEx.

Who will do this? The list increases by the day. We seem to put much more effort into inconclusive wars than trying to remedy the grievances that give rise to those wars. I guess wars are more profitable. Our idea of long-term planning is a Financial Quarter.

Jihadi Competition

But relax! I mainly write fiction. What do I know?

Mind you, after making a speech on this matter some years ago to the Marine Corps Intelligence Association, I was approached afterwards by a senior mover and shaker in intelligence who said: “That is exactly what we fear.”

Perhaps, I do know something—and I certainly know some people. Books get around—and where they go, the author may follow—and look, and listen, and understand.

And fear.

It’s kind of fun—in an uneasy kind of way—because this isn’t fiction. The nuclear threat is very real.

VOR words c. 729


Monday, January 26, 2015

(#118-1) January 2015. If you don’t know where you are going, it’s hard to figure out how to get there.

THOUGHTS ON

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

THE VITAL IMPORTANCE OF A SENSE OF PURPOSE

THE WONDER OF WRITING

Now and then I try and imagine what my life might be like if I was not a writer—and I practically break out in a cold sweat of fear. Writing underpins everything I do—what I think; what I do; how I do it; and most of my goals and ambitions. It also feels right—morally right in the deepest sense. It is my calling. I am doing what I was put here to do (assuming I was put here at all—a separate subject).

Does it worry me that that I haven’t written a book that has changed the world?

Not at all. Firstly, I have changed the world in a small way by touching the lives of several million readers. Secondly, the access I have gained through writing has enable me to accomplish some quite significant things. Thirdly, my primary purpose isn’t to change the world. It is to write to the full limit of my capabilities—a prodigiously ambitious goal given that it is innate to human nature that we rarely commit totally.

Total commitment is hard and has consequences. Few of us are that courageous. Mostly, even if we are trying—and often we don’t try very hard—we do the best we can given the constraints of our circumstances and the distractions which surround us—and then there is the dominant limitation of time. One cannot polish a piece indefinitely. At some point the writer has to accept the limitations of his work—and move on—even while knowing he could do better. Leonardo da Vinci summed up the situation perfectly. “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

da Vinci is worth reading, by the way. We tend to think of him as a painter and sculptor. He was a remarkably fine writer as well.

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
Leonardo da Vinci

“I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death”
Leonardo da Vinci

Maria Popova of www.brainpickings.com on purpose

"One should want only one thing and want it constantly," young AndrĂ© Gide half-observed, half-resolved in his journal. "Then one is sure of getting it." More than a century later, Werner Herzog wrote passionately of the "uninvited duty" that a sense of purpose plants in the heart, leaving one with "no choice but to push on." That combination of desiring something with inextinguishable intensity – which begins with letting your life speak and daring to listen – and pursuing it with steadfast doggedness is perhaps the single common thread in the lives of those we most admire as luminaries of enduring genius. It is also at the heart of what it means to find your purpose and live it.

I was primarily in business before I committed totally to writing in 1986—and I have no doubt at all that if I had stayed a businessman, I would now be considerably wealthier and comfortably retired.

Nonetheless, I have never regretted my decision to become a writer despite all the difficulties, the rejections, the financial insecurity, and my many failures in writing itself. It is a joyous way of life and utterly fulfilling. 

VOR words c.365.


 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

(#117-1) January 26 2015. All power corrupts and un-checked corporate power has a tendency to treat its works badly (and that is just for starters). Not the brightest idea.

I HAVE NEVER MUCH LIKED UNIONS.

BUT…

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

…UNLESS SOMEONE COMES UP WITH A BETTER IDEA—THEY ARE NECESSARY. TO BARGAIN YOU NEED A BALANCE OF POWER. RIGHT NOW THERE ISN’T ONE AND THE CONSEQUENCES ARE SELF-EVIDENT—A MIDDLE-CLASS THAT IS BEING DESTROYED.

THAT IS CRUEL, UNNECESSARY, WRONG—AND BAD FOR ANY BUSINESS DEPENDENT ON THE HOME MARKET

THIS ISN’T GOOD FOR AMERICA.

UnionsMiddleClassUPDATED

(#116-1) January 25 2015. I write often about the success of the Scandinavians. Well, just look at French. And then consider the implications as far as the U.S. is concerned.

THOSE DECADENT FRENCH—WITH THEIR PRE-DINNER (“cinq a sept “– 5.00-7.00pm) SEX, LONG VACATIONS AND THEIR SHORT WORKING WEEK

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

JUST LOOK AT THE CHART BELOW. THE FRENCH HAVE INCREASED THEIR PRODUCTIVITY BY 700% SINCE 1950. THE US INCREASE? JUST OVER 300%

MAYBE THE FRENCH KNOW SOMETHING WE DON’T—AND THEY EAT BETTER,  LIVE HEALTHIER LIVES, AND SEVERAL YEARS LONGER TOO

THE GREY LINE IS PRODUCTIVITY—THE BLUE LINE IS PAY. IN THE U.S. THE BLUE LINE (OUR PAY) IS GOING DOWN (WHILE GDP IS GOING UP).

In the U.S., from the end of WW II until about 1973, the National Cake was shared. Pay rose pretty much in line with productivity. Then, corporate America—much shaken by the gains achieved by liberal America, began to fight back. First, corporate America got organized—something it was well equipped to do because it had the financial resources and other expertise. Then it began to suborn the political system to the point where legislation (including the tax system) favored capital over labor.

This highly organized campaign, which has included crushing the unions—particularly in the private sector—has been startlingly successful to the point where an ever increasing share of GDP is going to capital (the shareholders) at the expense of labor (employees).

PRODUCTIVITY UP BY 254.3% FROM 1950 TO 2010 (60 YEARS)—AND PAY UP BY 113.1% THOUGH LARGELY FLAT SINCE 1973 AND NOW GOING DOWN

“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Message to Congress on Curbing Monopolies.,” April 29, 1938. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

There seems to be remarkably little interest in the fact that U.S. economy (including the tax system) is so blatantly rigged to favor the ultra-rich—and that our political system has been largely bought. And thus American democracy dies—or is it dead already?

We tend to think of a coup as the sudden and normally violent takeover of a government. We need to broaden our thinking. What we have had in the U.S. is a slow and virtually unnoticed coup where the violence has largely been economic.

Either way, the end result is the same—the control of the system by the few for the few. and where it is becoming increasingly hard to tell the difference between Big Business and Big Government (except that it is Big Business that pulls the strings).

That is not democracy. Some call that Fascism. But let’s not think about that. Let’s go back to doing what we like to do so often—poking fun at the French.

VOR words c.250


Saturday, January 24, 2015

(#115-1) January 24 2015. Strange the way we teach one thing and practice another.

WRITING A BLOG EVERY DAY HAS MADE ME THINK ABOUT MY OWN VALUES—WHILE ALSO RECOGNIZING MY OWN INCONSISTENCIES

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

BEING INTELLECTUALLY HONEST IS NOT EASY. IT CAN BE UNCOMFORTABLE. DO I ALWAYS SUCCEED? NOT ALWAYS—BUT IT SEEMS PRETTY DAMN FOOLISH TO LIE TO MYSELF

THE FOLLOWING PIECE BY WILLIAM RIVERS PITT EXPRESSES MY THOUGHTS ABOUT HEALTHCARE—AND A LITTLE MORE.

BUT WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE? THAT IS THE  GREAT QUESTION

Nothing that has value, real value, has no cost. Not freedom, not food, not shelter, not health care.

- Dean Kamen

I propose an experiment to determine the actual depth and breadth of this thing we call "American Exceptionalism."

Start here:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

That, right there, is the national hood ornament, the first thing you see, the first thing you learn when you study up on the country, and the thing you remember forever after the first time you hear it. I have plenty of issues with the nationalist concept of "American Exceptionalism," but those words, as a founding national ethos, are pretty damned special.

Which is why, even in the age of the Affordable Care Act - a piece of legislation that is helpful to many to some degree or another, but is also the greatest boon to the insurance industry in the history of the concept of insurance - I consider the very idea that health care in the United States is a multi-billion-dollar for-profit industry to be among the most repugnant phenomenons going.

It's like this, and to me, the matter is rock-paper-scissors simple:

Without health, there is no Life...because you're dead from a disease you can't afford the treatment for.

Without health, there is no Liberty...because you're trapped in a sick body, and in a sick bed, because your insurance doesn't cover your condition, so sorry, condolences to the family.

Without health, there is no pursuit of Happiness...because you're sick, and also broke from spending all of your money on trying not to be sick any more.

I hail from the great city of Boston, and if the hospitals in my home town are any example, I know for a stone fact that this nation has the medical infrastructure, the medical equipment, the medical talent and the medical will to treat the diseases that cost people all their money when they become afflicted and can't afford the care.

But we don't do that, because health care in the United States is a for-profit industry, just like petroleum speculation, "defense" spending and pork futures, and that's just crazy...and even with "Obamacare" delivering us into the warm embrace of the insurance industry in order to give us all "options," the whole process is a rank offense to the national ethos we allegedly hold so dear.

There is no life, there is no liberty, there is no pursuit of happiness without health. Period, end of file.

The same could be said about food, and shelter. There is no life without food, no liberty when all of your time is focused on finding you next mouthful, and no pursuit of happiness when you are hungry and have to beg or plunder dumpsters to eat. Those without shelter endure the same awful truth; there is no life, there is no liberty, there is no pursuit of happiness...but only brute existence, mere and meager survival, one grinding day into another, until you find yourself in a pauper's grave in some Potter's Field, unmarked and unwept, just gone, because you didn't count.

"Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

So here's the experiment:

Let's live up to the ideals we've been trained to take for granted, the ideals that have been besmirched and folded and spindled and mutilated in the name of peddling "America" as a brand. This is not a brand; this is a country. All sorts of people have called me an addled fool for clinging to the hope that the idea beneath our founding documents is strong enough to overcome what ails us, but I still believe in it - in spite of and in the face of all its perversions - because it is an extraordinary idea. You will never convince me otherwise.

It is an idea worth fighting for, and I will go down swinging to defend it.

So let's start here: if we shave a few scant percentage points off the "defense" budget annually, every single person in the United States can get health care if they are sick, food if they are hungry, and shelter if they are on the street. It won't cost anyone any more than they're already paying right this very moment to be in a permanent state of war.

According to the founding DNA of the nation - "Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness" - it is not only a moral imperative, but a matter of national obligation. We can do this. Our problem is not a lack of funds. Our problem is our gruesomely misplaced priorities. We can be so much more than we are.

Doing this would not make us "exceptional." It would not make us special. It would, simply by providing care for our most vulnerable citizens, invite us into an ever-growing community of nations that are doing what we have stubbornly refused to do.

It strikes me that the man makes a valid point.

VOR words c.30


Friday, January 23, 2015

(#114-1) January 23 2015. These days, an increasing number of our enemies—and potential enemies—have satellites, or access to space in some way—and advanced missile technology. Some have, or are about to have, hypersonic missiles which are near impossible to stop. What does that mean? It means the world Is not the way it was. It means that we are a vulnerable superpower.

WE TAKE OUR NAVY—AND ITS GLOBAL DOMINANCE—FOR GRANTED

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

BUT HOW ARE WE GOING TO COPE IN AN AGE OF MATURE PRECISION STRIKE? AND WHY SHOULD OUR LAND BASED FORCES FEEL ANY SAFER?

A military friend of mine—who worked for the Chief of Staff of the Army at the time—once memorably commented that we lacked a National Strategy, and so stumbled into one war after another, primarily driven by a combination of arrogance, ignorance, commercial interests—and the knowledge that we were the biggest kid on the block (so couldn’t lose).

In truth, all he said was that we lacked a strategy—the rest is mine—but I have to say that I think our combined opinion has considerable validity.

We don’t seem to know where we are going—let alone how to get there. And we don’t seem to be that good at winning wars either (even little ones).

Look at Yemen right now. The only winner in Yemen to date is Iran—which is enjoying equal success in Iraq, and may well win out in Syria as well.

That isn’t making our ally, Saudi Arabia, too happy—because, sooner or later, Iran is going to gobble them up (or their surrogates will). 

Is that bad?

Think before you answer.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter too much if we lose out in these relatively minor conflicts—at least in the short term.

However, we have been so preoccupied playing whack-a-mole with sundry insurgents—who seem to re-emerge under a different name no matter how many we kill—that it is far from certain we are ready for a real shooting war with a first rank enemy.

It strikes me that it would be a fine thing if we played less with our military toys—fun through that is (I speak from experience) and got vastly better at the less glamorous business of ensuring peace, and re-building America.

For that we’d need a National Strategy—or is it downright un-American to plan?

I get the impression that all too many think it is .

VOR words 337.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

(#113-2) January 22 2015. Strange the way a great communication medium can actually hinder communication.

THE GREAT E-MAIL BATTLE.

THE WRITER AS BUTCHER—THE BUTCHER AS WRITER

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

I LOST IT BADLY LAST YEAR

SO FAR THIS YEAR IT IS SOMETHING OF A DRAW—NOT GOOD ENOUGH—AT THIS RATE I’LL BE SENDING OUT CHRISTMAS 2014 GREETINGS ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY!

MY APOLIGIES. MORE CUTTING IS CLEARLY REQUIRED

THE GOOD NEWS: I’M WRITING AS NEVER BEFORE—SO SOMETHING IS WORKING!

Last year I ran two e-mail tests which were unexpectedly successful so I was swamped. I ran them simultaneously so I didn’t learn lesson from one in time to apply it to the other. Foolish of me.

The problem was compounded by the fact that this occurred about the time I was injured so I was unable to fight back for some time. I was badly concussed and in pain for four months. I continued to try and work, but I was way below par.

I would like to think I’ll be wiser next time I do this sort of thing—and send the responses to a different e-mail address, apart from anything else..

But my primary concern is not the devastation caused by overly successful tests—or the the consequences of being injured—but the difficulties of dealing with routine incoming e-mail.

Over the last four years or so, I have built up a terrific range of useful sources on the areas that interest me—including the book market, military matters, and economics—so I’m reluctant to cut anyone in that group.

It appears I’ll have to. Carnage is called for.

Right now, I’m so busy keeping myself well informed that my social correspondence is suffering. The business aspect is more or less under control. Frankly, I doubt that e-mail can ever be completely tamed.

Because I like writing to friends, I tend to put that aside until I can find the time to give them the attention they deserve—which rarely comes—and so the people I most care about are most neglected (subject to a couple of exceptions).

I could, of course, give up blogging, but that has helped me so much—in so many ways—I absolutely refuse to.

I have made a great deal of progress re productivity in other ways. but e-mail remains remarkably intractable.

So what is the good news in all this? I guess it is the fact that I’m not complaining about writer’s block or some fundamental writing problem.

You know, that is quite a comforting thought. I remember the days when my writing life was very different…

Blank screen. Blank mind.

Not any more.

VOR words 415


 

(#113-1) January 22 2015. It is quite remarkable what you can do if you buy up Congress (politicians come cheap) and the legal system (equally a bargain). Just for starters, you can steal legally. It’s not that hard if you own the people who make the laws—and enough judges in the right places. Yes, the system is rigged, stacked, fixed—and thoroughly corrupt. That marvelous document, the Constitution, has been legally tweaked to become a system of wealth extraction.

THE TRILLION DOLLAR HEIST  FROM YOU TO THEM

(Put that way, it sounds downright touching)

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

THE CURRENT AMERICAN BUSINESS MODEL AT WORK

THE TOP 1% HAVE GAINED $1 TRILLION (that’s almost real money) AT THE EXPENSE OF THE BOTTOM 80%

MOST OF US DON’T SEEM TO HAVE NOTICED—IN FACT WE TEND TO VOTE FOR THE VERY POLITICIANS WHO HELP TO RIG THE SYSTEM

ONLY IN AMERICA…

THE INCOMES OF THE BOTTOM 90% GO UP IN AUSTRAILIA AND CANADA—TO GIVE BUT TWO EXAMPLES—BUT DECLINE IN THE U.S.

WHY?

AND WHERE IS MUCH OF THE MONEY STASHED?

DECIDEDLY NOT  ONLY IN AMERICA

BY WHO?

I’m not sure I can add much to this story. What is going on is so egregious it practically defies description—and yet there is no mass concern. Reportedly, half the adult population is on legal drugs. I have to wonder what the other half is on—in that few seem to notice or care.

This is the biggest heist in history—and it is happening in plain sight.

It makes the biggest thieves and villains in history seem like amateurs. Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan must be spinning in their graves. The Vikings, exhausted by all that raiding and rape, must be seething in Valhalla at the inadequacies of their own business mode).

If you are going to pillage a country, the American Business Model is clearly the way way to go.

This story is largely sourced from www.vox.com (a very useful site).

Larry Summers sums up the cost of rising inequality to the typical American household: "If the US had the same income distribution it had in 1979, the bottom 80 per cent of the population would have $1 trillion — or $11,000 per family — more. The top 1 per cent $1 trillion — or $750,000 — less."

VOR words c.100.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

(#112-1) January 21 2015. Too many books? Let me answer that in two words—IM-POSSIBLE!

THE WORD ‘GLUT’ IS NOW BEING USED ABOUT THE BOOK BUSINESS—TOO MANY PEOPLE ARE NOW SELF PUBLISHING?

ARE WE WRITERS NOW DOOMED (MORE THAN USUAL?)

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

“GLUT IS GOOD,” SAYS HUGH HOWIE

(“Hugh Howie is good,” says Victor)

img-hughHowie is a Best Selling Author and an absolute champion of the indie publisher.  Marvelous man. check him out at www.hughhowie.com He wrote the following (I wish I had). The guy has a zest for life that is infectious.

If you followed the logic of the most paranoid and hysterical among the Glut-Chanters, you’d have to reach this conclusion. Bookselling is dead. There are enough fantastic and free books to last us all for the rest of our lives. And yet, book-buying continues to be a $30 billion dollar industry. What gives?

How can people spend $30 billion dollars on books when there are libraries full of books that just sit there, un-checked-out and without waiting lists? How can people spend $30 billion dollars a year on books when I’ve seen piles of free physical books on the streets of New York, abandoned and left for passersby after someone moved out of their apartment? Why are people spending this much money when library overstock sales get rid of hardbacks for a buck and paperbacks cost 50 cents? Literature is being devalued everywhere, and yet it still brings in $30 billion a year? What gives?

What gives is that books aren’t perfectly interchangeable. Or another way to say this is that all books don’t appeal equally to all people. The industry could release ten trillion free ebooks tomorrow, all told from the perspective of ninja zombie llamas, and those ten trillion extra free ebooks would impact book shopping not a whit. Zilch. Nada.

Okay, you’d probably lose two or three sales. But that’s it. Those ebooks would disappear into the ether just like billions of un-surfed websites do. Do all those websites clog up the internet? Make it impossible to browse around and find what you’re looking for? No — they make it more likely that you’ll find what you’re looking for. Because there’s a greater chance that someone has self-published onto the World Wide Web just the information you’re seeking.

Forget the number of books being published every year. Raw numbers of books are meaningless, as are the price of those books. What matters is whether each individual reader can find enough quality reads to make him or her happy at prices they are willing to pay. Which is why Project Gutenberg hasn’t destroyed the publishing industry. There are enough people who want physical books, enough who want new books, enough who want non-fiction, and enough who don’t care about the classics, to keep this $30 billion industry humming right along.

So why all the consternation? Well, seeing things in the most negative light imaginable is just how a lot of humans are wired. But I suspect it’s deeper than that. We are also biologically geared to worry over scarce resources and to use up any commons that we fear others might use before we get a chance. This puling over the glut of books is ape-brain-shit gone wild.

You mostly hear about this glut nonsense from book producers, and they aren’t worried about an infinite number of books, they are worried about the finite number of wallets. They see every one of those ten trillion llama books as taking money out of their pockets, because they think every reader would enjoy their work if there was nothing else to read. They think if they could just limit the number of books, they’d sell more. They’d be richer. So is there any way to shut down the spigot? Any way of shaming people who write too fast, price too cheap, give ebooks away, serialize, participate in subscription services, etc? That’s the goal. To have more wallets spread among fewer people.

The tools you see employed to reach that goal are shame and fear-mongering. Ignore it. It’s all insane. These people miss the point, which is that the glut is good. The glut is golden. There’s never been a better time in history for literature.

VOR words c.60


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

(#111-2) January 20 2015. The world is a tempting place—and there are hard choices to be made. I have never regretted choosing writing although it is about as stressful a way to make a living that can be imagined. I guess writing poetry is even more difficult—but supposedly poets get the women. Let me tell a secret: so do writers (every now and then).

TO BE SOMEBODY, OR TO DO SOMETHING?

THAT IS THE QUESTION

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

TO WRITE THE WAY I AM DRIVEN TO WRITE IS ESSENTIALLY ABOUT DOING.  I WOULD LIKE FAME AND FORTUNE, OF COURSE, BUT THE PRICE HAS A TENDENCY TO BE HIGH.

I AM CONTENT TO DO—THOUGH IT IS A STRUGGLE

The following is one of my favorite stories. It was featured today in the consistently provocative Fabius Maximus blog—extremely timely in my case, given current events.

One of best known anecdotes about the late John Boyd (Colonel, USAF) describes the decay of our officer corps. It’s often told as a upbeat story, I hope intended as gallows humor. It’s one of the most depressing stories I’ve heard about our Versailles-on-the-Potomac. This is from Robert Coram’s Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War (2002).

John R. Boyd (Colonel, USAF)

“Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road. And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.

“Or you can go that way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference.

“To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do. Which way will you go?”

VOR words c. 50.


(#111-1) January 20 2015. Why don’t women rule the world? Perhaps they already do.

I HAVE LONG REGARDED WOMEN AS BEING SMARTER THAN MEN—EXCEPT WHEN IT COMES TO CHOOSING MEN

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

NOW THERE IS SOME EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THAT OPINION (re the smarts—it says nothing about their choices of men)

Perhaps because I grew up surrounded by strong women (the good, the bad, and the terrifying)—except when I was in boarding school—I have never been biased towards my own sex. In fact, I have never understood sexual bias—except where actual sex is concerned. Then. I will freely admit that women are my mates of choice. I have rarely been disappointed (in the sex).

If the world ever runs out of women—or I’m marooned on a desert island with only men and camels for company, who knows! I have always rather liked camels.

When I was in business BW (Before Writing) I worked under both men and women and didn’t have any particular preferences. Frankly, good managers of either sex are comparatively rare. My best boss, mentor, and friend, Art Damschen, as it happens was a man—but nobody is perfect.

Sadly, he is dead. So is the great love of my life—who was very much a woman.

Later, when I was doing the managing, I promoted whoever I thought could do the job better. That was widely disapproved off in those far off day—the assumption being that I was sleeping with the woman in question (rarely true, though the thought might have crossed my mind)—but that didn’t concern me much. I couldn’t see any reason to promote someone less competent—and make my life more difficult—just because he was a man.

What had men ever done for me? I had spent far too long locked up with far too many of them in boarding school—with only our Italian maids and a few matrons to lust after. Torture, I tell you! Single sex schools should be banned.

Strangely enough, my singe-sex boarding school—run by Benedictine monks—eventually saw the light and Ampleforth has been co-ed for years. Who ever said miracles don’t happen!

I’ve also never had any time for men-only clubs or similar institutions. Why on earth would any sane man want to exclude women—unless he wanted to feel superior and elitist? In that case, would I really want to be in a club with him and his fellows? Besides, I like women. They are multi-purpose people, the Swiss Army knives of humanity on steroids. You can sleep with them, walk with them, talk with them, laugh with them—and even make babies with them. What’s not to like?

As for women in politics, why not? They certainly can’t do any worse than men. Women doctors? I’ve had several—all excellent—and I hold to the view that if male doctors can examine women intimately, why not the other way around? A great deal—if not all—of this anti-female bias is pure prejudice, and based upon no substance whatsoever.  As for women in combat, the Kurds, for example, employ females in direct combat, and they are formidable. Russian women fought extensively and successfully against the Germans in WW II.

Women fight successfully with men all the time—and nature delivers them combat ready—complete with cunning. They don’t have to read Sun Tzu to know THE ART OF WAR. It’s genetic.

Over the years, I have come to the view that women, generally speaking, do have the edge on we males. You/They read people better, communicate better, and don’t posture as much.  Still, I’m talking in general. On an individual basis, people of both sexes seem to be equally flaky. We’re an odd bunch, we humans—and some of us, of either sex, aren’t too likeable.

Still, I have never understood why the sexes are not equally represented in all walks of life—and why women don’t fight harder for just that. Sometimes I wonder do you/they know something we males don’t know.

But if I understood that, perhaps I would understand women—and, as we all know, since I’m a man, that is impossible.

As a writer, I try, of course. All my books feature strong, interesting, and sexual women—and some are villains. Others are violent terrorists.

My books are so like real life. My terrorists are so like my mothers-in-law.

I like thinking about women. Happy memories. Delightful friends. Good company. Interesting prospects. And all that unspoken sexual tension.

I never could take to golf.

The Secret to Smart Groups Isn't Smart People—It's Women

A fleet of MIT studies finds that women are much better at knowing what their colleagues are really thinking. It's another reason to expect the gender wage gap to eventually flip.

DEREK THOMPSON JAN 18 2015, 2:07 PM ET

…the single most important element of smart groups, according to the researchers, was their "average social sensitivity." That is, the best groups were also the best at reading the non-verbal cues of their teammates. And, since women score higher on this metric of emotional intelligence, teams with more women tended to be better teams.

What the heck is average social sensitivity? It is, essentially, mind-reading. When a member of your team—Michelle, we'll call her—says "I guess Danny really does have the answer for everything," and you detect a hint of aggrieved irony in Michelle's statement, while further noting the simultaneous drop in Michelle's chin as she makes the comment, coinciding with a deflated air of preemptive surrender in Michelle's tone, and you begin to think, hmmm, maybe what Michelle is actually saying is that Danny is a know-it-all jerk?, you are detecting what scientists would call "non-verbal clues." In plain-speak, you are reading between the lines. Indeed, like reading, social sensitivity is a kind of literacy, and it turns out that women are naturally more fluent in the language of tone and faces than the other half of their species.

Women are better at reading the mind through the face even online, when they can't see their teammates' faces. In a follow-up study (the full paper, which again isn't linked in the Times piece, lives here), MIT scientists gave participants a "Reading the Mind in the Eyes," or RME, test, where they were asked to identify complex emotions (e.g., shame or curiosity, rather than sadness or joy) in pictures of other people's eyes. Then they divided participants into teams and had them perform a number of tests, like brainstorming and group Sudoku. Again, teams with more women, who scored higher on the RME test, performed the best across the tasks. From the paper:

The [RME] scores of group members were a strong predictor of how well the groups could perform a wide range of tasks together, even when participants were only collaborating online via text chat and could not see each other’s eyes or facial expressions at all.

Reading these studies and the Times piece, I could think of two obvious objections.

  • First: Isn't it possible that there are specific personality traits—like openness or empathy—that might make some men just as good as women at reading the minds of their teammates?
  • Second: Is it really true that smarter teammates have so little to do with smart groups?

The MIT scientists answer the first question explicitly, with a no. "We found no significant correlation between a general factor of personality and collective intelligence or RME," they write. Mind-reading isn't a personality trait. It's a skill.

Second, the relationship between smart teammates and smart groups is complicated by the fact that groups are sometimes assigned problems that only require one person to solve. If you ask a team of highly emotionally sensitive people to solve a differential calculus problem, and none of them knows calculus, it's unlikely that they will come to grasp Taylor polynomials by looking deeply into each others' eyes and really, truly listening. When the problem can be solved by one really smart cookie (e.g.: who remembers calculus), it's nice to have a really smart cookie. If, however, the solution requires deep collaboration, EQ trumps IQ.

I found these studies eye-opening for two further reasons. First, there is a growing sense that the Internet can destroy interpersonal skills, kill our emotional intelligence, and turn us into warm-blooded versions of the very robots that we fear will one day take our jobs. But these studies suggest that the rules of empathy hold both on- and offline. Emotionally sensitive people are gifted at reading between the lines, whether the literal lines are brow wrinkles or text messages.

Second, if you take these findings seriously, they represent a third fork of evidence suggesting that the male-female gender wage gap will not only close but also invert. It would surprise me if, in a generation, women aren't earning more than men across many mainstream industries.

VOR words 448


Monday, January 19, 2015

(#110-1) January 19 2015. If we are predictable and the enemy retains the initiative, how can we claim tactical success? Or are we deluding ourselves? We are certainly missing something. It could well be that elusive thing—the truth. It could be merely that our perspective is flawed. Either way, we consistently seem to misread such situations—deliberately or otherwise—in war, after war, after war.

IF WE WIN ALL THE BATTLES

VICTOR - SHOT BY MICK - ENHANCED

HOW COME WE LOSE THE WARS?

THOUGHTS ABOUT WINNING & LOSING

Working on my non-fiction military book has made me think a great deal about the widely accepted belief that the U.S. military tends to win at a tactical level virtually all the time—yet we certainly don’t seem to win most of our wars.

The following are the conflicts that come to mind immediately.  Doubtless, I have missed a few, but they are sufficient to make the point.

  • KOREA—A draw at best, and we got badly hammered by the Chinese when we advanced into North Korea.
  • VIETNAM—We lost.
  • LEBANON—After the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks, we withdrew.
  • GULF WAR 1991/2—We won in that we drove the Iraqis from Kuwait, but then we made an unsatisfactory peace which kept Saddam Hussein in power.
  • SOMALIA—After Blackhawk Down, we withdrew somewhat ignominiously. Now, we’re back with Special Forces and drones.
  • AFGHANISTAN—Whatever we pretend, we are still at war in Afghanistan.
  • IRAQ—As above.

    We can report two complete successes—GRENADA and PANAMA.  However. neither constituted a remotely serious enemy. We couldn’t lose. In fact, where Panama was concerned, we were already there. Invading a small country, when you already have bases there, is not too hard.

    It strikes me that we are doing ourselves no favors by claiming to win all the battles because it is clear that we don’t. If an enemy attacks us, on his own initiative, inflicts damage, and then retreats on his own terms, we may claim victory—especially if he has suffered more casualties than we do—but we are fooling ourselves if our enemy achieved his objective of hurting us sufficiently so that, eventually, we would lose the will to fight. Our enemies consistently play the long game because they know we rarely can, or wish to.

    In his terms, losing more people than we do is worth it (and all but inevitable given our superior firepower).

    In this context, for us to win at the tactical level would require us to be able to operate with impunity—virtually free of effective attack—which has decidedly not been the case in either Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, we have suffered enormous materiel damage in both of those countries—and, though our fatalities have not been particularly high by the sad standards of such conflicts,  we have suffered a considerable toll in terms of wounded, and very large numbers of soldiers are suffering from the after effect of IEDs—which include PTSD and a truly concerning number of TBIs (Traumatic Brain Injuries).

    A disturbing byproduct of our belief that we are consistently victorious at the tactical level is that we see no good reason to change tactics. After all, if what we are doing is near 100 percent successful, we would be foolish, indeed, to change. In short, our intellectual dishonesty—or simple misreading of the situation—leads to complacency.

    In saying this, I don’t wish to imply any criticism of the soldiers on the ground. Again and again they display astonishing courage. However, I do think that those in command  might have done a better job if they had accepted the reality of the situation and adjusted their tactics accordingly.

    In particular, we remained Big Base oriented, and road-bound, for far too long. In addition, we should have become much better at preventing IEDs being planted in the first place. The latter would have required significant tactical changes and an integration with air that have still not yet been achieved—nor, for the most part, even attempted..

    Chuck Spinney, one of our most prominent military thinkers, is worth reading (although, ironically, he too states that we appear to win tactically). But, essentially, he is making the same point that I am—but provides more context. Not only our enemies like protracted conflicts.

    Check out www.chuckspinney.blogspot.com 

    Can a Gold Plated Military Counter ISIS?

    Lightly armed guerrilla/insurgent/terrorist forces are once again holding off the high-tech, heavily armed forces of the United States.  A string of defeats is slowly accumulating at the strategic and grand-strategic levels of conflict, even though US forces almost always win battles at the tactical level, if they can fix the insurgents and destroy them with overwhelming firepower, particularly bombing.  But when viewed through the overlapping lenses of the operational, strategic, and grand strategic levels of conflict guerrillas have advantages to offset US firepower.

    Faced with the tactical threat of overwhelming conventional firepower, irregular fighters always strive to retain the initiative at the operational level of conflict by perfecting the arts of quick dispersal and blending in with the physical and cultural background, while relying on provocations (beheadings?), hit and run attacks, and the ubiquitous threat of booby traps to keep US forces on edge and increase our expenditure of effort.  To paraphrase T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia), the guerrilla’s operational level goal is to wage a war of detachment, presenting a threat everywhere, “never affording a target” and “never on the defensive except by accident or error.” [Boyd, POC, Slide 64]  At the strategic level of conflict, guerrillas aim to wear down US forces by keeping them under continual mental and physical strain, while at the decisive level of grand strategy, their aim is to stretch out and increase the cost of the intervention to undermine the US political will at home, weaken its allied support, keep neutrals neutral or empathetic to guerrilla cause, and attract recruits.

    In short guerrillas love protracted wars -- periods of apparent inaction punctuated by short, sharp fights — or in the naive lexicon of fascinated American counter-insurgency enthusiasts, guerrillas love long wars.  That is because protracted wars create an unfolding stream of events that play into the guerrilla’s hands at the decisive grand-strategic level of conflict.

    Juxtapose the guerrilla art of war to that described by President Obama in his declaration of a war on ISIS last September.  Obama called for yet another high-cost, fire-power centric attrition strategy with the objective “to degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS  “through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”  This art of war at its core assumes the art is all tactical — i.e. destruction by bombing — and that this assumption of pure attrition is the only effect of military operations needed to eventually procure success at the operational, strategic, and grand strategic levels of war to “ultimately” destroy ISIS.

    Put another way, the idea of a protracted military operations implicit in Mr. Obama’s words fits the guerrilla strategy like a hand fits a glove.

    It is not as if the United States has not experienced the grand-strategic meat grinding effects of this kind of thinking.  They clearly unfolded to our chagrin in Viet Nam.  They are unfolding again in the perpetual Global War on Terror (GWOT), which, in terms money adjusted for inflation, is now by some estimates the second most expensive war in US history, requiring annual defense budgets far exceeding the annual budgets of the much larger, higher tempo Korean and Viet Nam Wars (see graphic). 

    One problem is that like guerrillas, the domestic political-economy of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC) has come to love protracted small wars war for the obvious reason that high budgets enrich and strengthen the MICC’s iron triangle, thereby providing it with the political power and wealth needed to keep its game going, just as President Eisenhower feared over 50 years ago in his farewell address (January 1961)  The explosive cost of small wars is a predictable consequence of  the domestic politics of the MICC’s political-economy and its addiction to gold-plated weapons that naturally flow out of dysfunctional bureaucratic/political power games exhibited by the MICC’s well-documented decision-making pathologies. (a subject discussed throughout the variety of reports assembled here.) 

    VOR words 620.