Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June 30 2015. If you have absolutely no talent for something—should you try and do it?

LET ME SHARE A MODEST AMBITION

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I WOULD LIKE TO BECOME SIGNIFICANTLY MORE COMPUTER COMPETENT BEFORE I DIE.   AND FEEL FREE TO INSCRIBE ‘RE-BOOT ME’ ON MY GRAVE STONE.

HOW IS THE QUESTION (in both cases)?

When I set out to become a writer, I had no idea that computers would become such a major factor in my daily life. In business, I had primarily delegated their hands-on use. That wasn’t possible when I finally committed to writing in 1986—after sundry adventures, and misadventures beforehand. Evidently, I could not escape close-quarters combat.

I won’t regale you yet again with tales of the miserable time I had with computers in the early days. Suffice to say that anything that could go wrong did—and I was the worst person in the world to fix the things. I know a great deal about computers theoretically, but my mind doesn’t seem to work the right way when it comes to the practical.

In particular, I lack the intuitive feel that exists when you grow up with the things. I’m too old. I grew up with a pen you dipped into an ink-well. I was just one step ahead of writing with a goose feather! I’m probably near enough to my ancestors to do quite a reasonable job painting on cave walls.

This week I was faced with three problems of the kind that occur on a fairly regular basis—but which I normally need some help to fix.

  • My Chrome browser got corrupted. It would do everything except accept input from me. I could click on a link and it would go there fine, but the search box wouldn’t accept any input. I would type but nothing would appear. This, by the way, is particularly frustrating if you are a writer.
  • My blogging software, Windows Live Writer—which I love—started misbehaving for the second time (which is why my blogging is in arrears).
  • The program is use to keep my electronic files in order, Xplorer, started opening my PDFs when I tried to move them. Previously, I had dragged and dropped at speed without problems. Now the program was opening each file as soon as I touched it.

To my absolute amazement, I fixed them all—and a few more besides. Evidently, after 30 years using the damn things, I have learned something—not much—but something.

How to progress to the next level is the question.


 

 

Monday, June 29, 2015

June 29 2015. If you want to write—read a lot. You need to think like a writer first. After that, write every day. A few decades later---who knows!

THERE IS SOME TRULY EXCELLENT ADVICE ON WRITING OUT THERE

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AND ONE INVALUABLE RESOURCE IS JEFF GOINS. THE FOLLOWING ARE HIS  TIPS. I DON’T AGREE WITH HIM COMPLETELY (JUST MOSTLY)

www.goinswriter.com

So… you want to be a writer?

This all begins with believing you already are a writer. So let’s start there. My own journey of becoming a writer was an awakening of sorts — to who I already was. Maybe yours will be similar.

A writer is a writer when he says he is.
—Steven Pressfield

Anyone who writes is a writer, but that doesn’t mean they’re a very good one. So let’s talk about how to become a better writer. We’ll begin with the basics — here are seven key lessons (with links to important articles about each):

  • Writing is simple, but not easy.
  • Before you get a larger audience, you have to get better.
  • Practice makes you better; it’s the repetitions that make it effortless.
  • Until you put your work out there, you’re only screwing around. Write for real.
  • You can’t practice without discipline. Keep showing up and persevering.
  • There will always be resistance; type through it, anyway.
  • Get over your excuses and do the work.
  • Before getting started

Before you begin writing, ask yourself these important questions:

  • Why do I want to write?
  • Who am I writing for?
  • What’s my message?
  • Have I found my voice yet?
  • What am I willing to sacrifice for my craft?
  • What won’t I give up?
  • Once you count the cost and make the decision to begin, it’s time to start writing.
Tips for when you begin

I’ve coached and trained other writers for years. I’ve built a powerful personal brand and platform and used it to publish my work. I’ve experimented and seen as much failure as success. Through all of it, I want to use what I’ve learned to help other people.

So my hope this blog serves you in your writing journey in some way. I’ve written hundreds of articles here, which is a lot to sort through. Here is a list of 10 essential tips on writing:

Build your platform

Although writers need to write first for the craft, it’s not a bad thing to want to get published. But that’s a byproduct, not a goal (For the real writer, anyway).

Look. This isn’t just something that happens accidentally. You have to work at it. So how do you create work that earns you the attention of publishers, exactly? You build a platform.

These days, a lot of writers use blogs and the power of the Internet to get their writing discovered. There’s no reason you can’t do the same. Here are 10 basic tips on blogging and building an audience that will help you get published:

Expect haters.

Help people.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

June 28 2015. Never underestimate the power of corporate greed—especially where CEOs are concerned.

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT INCENTIVES WOULD HAVE WORKED--

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SO WELL FOR CEOS—AND SO DISASTROUSLY AS FAR AS THE U.S ECONOMY IS CONCERNED

AND WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT WE WOULD DO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT IT—EVEN AFTER THE DAMAGE BECAME CLEAR!

The U.S. economy is currently in an economic death spiral which few people seem willing to recognize—even while the economic wellbeing of most Americans continues to decline.

To repeat myself (I’d be getting hoarse if I was speaking) the answers are out here—and many are working and well proven—but we seem singularly disinclined to look.

Anyway, just to illustrate the point, here are some practical suggestions to deal with that well-known plague, ‘CEO short-termism sickness.’

It’s worth catching because the neat thing about it is that the negative consequences are suffered by others. The patient gets rich.

The Nation declines.

 

In our new paper “More builders and fewer traders: a growth strategy for the American economy” we identify a handful of obscure but important shifts—in laws, regulations, and standard practices—which, taken together, have changed the incentive structure of leaders in American corporations. This set of incentives has led to short term behavior on the part of corporate leadership. These incentives are so powerful that once they became pervasive in the private sector, they began to have broad effects. No one set out to create this myopic system, which arose piecemeal over a period of decades. But taken together, these perverse new micro-incentives have created a macroeconomic problem.

There are four trends that constitute the architecture of modern short-termism: the proliferation of stock buybacks; the increase in non-cash compensation; the fixation on quarterly earnings; and the rise of activist investors. The effect of this system across the broad economy has been to reinforce short-term behavior on the part of corporate leaders. While cash distributed to shareholders as a share of cash flow has surged to a record high during the past decade, the share devoted to capital investment has fallen to a record low.

Unlike many of the broader developments that have contributed to our economic problems—these incentives can and must be changed. We recommend:

  • Repealing SEC Rule 10-B-18 and the 25 percent exemption
  • Improving disclosure practices
  • Strengthening sustainability standards in 10-K reporting
  • Toughening executive compensation rules
  • Reforming the taxation of executive compensation

Changes such as the ones identified above will free funds for investments in employees as well as plant, equipment, and R&D. Thus a virtuous circle becomes possible: a more satisfied and productive workforce will boost growth, which in turn will permit CEOs and boards to raise wages while offering good returns on shareholder investment. For the first time in the 21st century, we could be growing together—not apart.

    • William A. Galston

      Senior Fellow, Governance Studies

      The Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in Governance Studies

      @BillGalston

      A former policy advisor to President Clinton and presidential candidates, Bill Galston is an expert on domestic policy, political campaigns, and elections. His current research focuses on designing a new social contract and the implications of political polarization.

      More Posts from Willia

Elaine Kamarck

Elaine Kamarck

Founding Director, Center for Effective Public Management

Senior Fellow, Governance Studies


Saturday, June 27, 2015

June 27 2015. Our behavior towards the subject of economics reminds me of the phrase, “The willing suspension of disbelief (which is the mindset we employ when going to the theater).”

WHERE OUR ECONOMIC SYSTEM IS CONCERNED, NOT ONLY ARE MANY OF THE ASSUMPTIONS WE MAKE ABOUT IT WRONG—BUT THEY HAVE BEEN WELL AND THOROUGHLY DEMONSTRATED TO BE WRONG

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YET WE CONTINUE AS IF EVERYTHING WAS –AND CONTINUES TO BE—WORKING FINE

“There is nowt so daft as folks!”

I love economics, regard it as an entirely valid field of study, but spent a great deal of time at university rejecting what I was taught.

History has largely proved me right. Yet, we continue to operate our economy largely as if ECONOMICS (as taught in Samuelson, for instance) is ordained truth—even while we know it isn’t. The feeling amongst economists seems to be that if we admit the emperor has no clothes, the economics profession will vanish, and we’ll all be out in the streets, tin cup in hand, seeing if our demands are met by supply.

The situation would be bad enough if we only had our economists behaving as witch-doctors, but the situation is made much worse by extreme Right Wing Republicans (Is there any other kind these days?) spouting theories—based on ideologies—which have already been well proven—under real-life conditions over many years) to be utterly and completely wrong.

The sad fact is that there are answers to most of our economic problems out there, but those who have the influence and power to effect the required changes aren’t interested, and have their own agendas.

And so U.S. decline continues.


Friday, June 26, 2015

June 26 2015. A creative ‘menage a trois’ (in a manner of speaking)

IF WRITING IS MY ABSOLUTE PASSION AND PURPOSE IN LIFE—WHICH IT IS—WHAT COMES NEXT?

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IN TRUTH, WRITING IS SO ALL EMCOMPASSING THAT I HAVE VERY LITTLE TIME FOR A SECOND-STRING INTEREST—BUT I WILL CONFESS I DO HAVE A MISTRESS ON THE SIDE (THAT I LOVE WITH A PASSION THAT COMPLEMENTS WRITING).

THE NAME OF THIS PASSION?

RADIO.

It seems to me inevitable that e-books will evolve into multi-media books—at least to some extent (and it will depend upon the nature of the book as well).

Quite how will this be done? I don’t have a particular technology or methodology in mind. I just know that the human voice—when detached from the visual—is extraordinarily powerful and evocative and, somehow, I want it to play a greater role where my books are concerned.

I’m not thinking of less reading. I’m thinking of a multiplier factor.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

June 25 2015. I hold these truths to be self-evident.

I SEE A GREAT DEAL OF MERIT IN CAPITALISM—BUT NOT AS PRACTISED IN THE U.S. RIGHT NOW

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THE CURRENT AMERICAN BUSINESS MODEL IS SERIOUSLY CORRUPT—AND THAT CORRUPTION CARES LITTLE WHETHER THE SECTOR BEING CONTAMINATED IS PUBLIC OR PRIVATE.

 

MOST OF US ARE MAKING NO EFFORT AT ALL TO REMEDY THE SITUATION.

OrganizedCrime.jpg


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

June 24 2015. A book is a series of marathons. Speed has its uses, but you need stamina all the time—and the mind is everything.

HOW MUCH SHOULD A WRITER WRITE

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IN A DAY?

I have just read a piece by Bob Baker of http://fulltimeauthor.com/ pointing out that, with practice, a writer can get his output up considerably. Bob ended up producing about 5,000 words, but said he doubted that was his maximum. I’m sure he is right.

Here are my thought on the matter.

  • Speed is much less important than the quality of your writing. In fact, speed is almost irrelevant in that context.
  • Without question speed can be useful—if only because a writer has a great deal more to attend to than creative  writing. Accordingly, I wish I was a faster and better trained typist for correspondence and the like. Where creative writing is concerned, I find I do fine at 2,000 words a day—3,000 under some circumstances. If I do less, because I was working out some tricky point, I am not the slightest bit concerned. Speed is not my focus. Quality is. How do I determine that? My inner voice tells me—and it has no tact at all.
  • I consider frequency of writing to be more important than either speed or quantity of output. To that end, I try and write for several hours—or longer—every day, and normally do. This help to make turning thoughts into the written word an effortless reflex
  • A great deal of my best work is done when re-writing. Here, I pay almost no attention to speed, but focus obsessively on quality. If I can make just a few improvements on every page—and I almost always can—the difference shines.
  • When you are really in the groove—fully focused—writing to the stretched limits of your capabilities is both extraordinarily hard work—and effortless.

No, I can’t explain. It’s something that is best experienced.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

June 23 2015. I read somewhere that moving houses is as traumatic as a death in the family. I’m not sure about that—but I take the point.

MOVING IS INCREDIBLY DISRUPTIVE

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HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO ADJUST?

I’m not overly fond of moving, but seem to have moved a surprising amount. One of these days—and specifically for my memoirs—I’m going to have to work out how often, and why. Vacations and boarding school apart, during my childhood, I lived in four different houses—and on two farms.

In all, I have moved some ungodly number of times, and have lived for extended periods (as in multiple years)  in four countries—and for longish periods (as in months in all) in several more. I have visited something over 20. I’m not a world class traveller—but I am as they say.’well traveled’—and glad of it.

An interesting thought—my books have been sold in more than twice as many countries as I have either lived in or visited. Just thinking about that gives me a rather good feeling.

Where writing is concerned, travel, and a wide variety of human experiences, are invaluable (though that is not necessarily what you think at the time. When I was near drowning, on one occasion, I certainly didn’t think the experience would make a good story—because I felt pretty certain I’d be dead within the hour. I was being optimistic.

In practice, I wouldn’t have lasted close to long because, though I was unaware of it, hypothermia had already set in, and when I was pulled out of the water by a fishing boat, I found I was so cold, I couldn’t move. I was entirely helpless and had to be carried. I felt a flash of terror as I realized how close I had come to sliding beneath the Irish Sea.

On the other hand, after the first time I came under fire in Northern Ireland, I was acutely aware that the experience would help my writing—though that didn’t stop me going into reaction the following day. At the time I was fine—and, as best I can tell, I did what was both right and expected—but clearly I was more affected than I had thought because I got the shakes when I saw a BBC film clip of part of what had occurred. 

Though I don’t know quite where I’m going to end up at present (I have a shortlist) I expect to be content enough providing I can write.

As far as I am concerned, writing is joie de vivre in the fullest sense of the phrase. I feel much blessed.


Monday, June 22, 2015

June 22 2015 We are the Pentagon—and the truth of any matter is what we choose it to be.

THERE ARE LIES, DAMN LIES, STATISTICS

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AND WHAT THE PENTAGON AND THE MILITARY SAY

To what extent should the Nation’s military be forthcoming?

There are some, particular the military themselves, who believe that the public at large should be told as little as possible, lied to, and otherwise deceived where necessary, and kept confused at all times. In short, they think that anything and everything to do with National Security should be kept secret.

You can make quite a good case for this mindset—because it supposedly denies the enemy much information—if you can safely assume that defense is properly run, that all involved behave honorably, and that the MICC—the Military Industrial Complex—are all honorable people and can be trusted.

If you know your history (and all too many do not) and follow the defense establishment on a regular basis, you will soon realize that the military swim in a sea of their own propaganda—and have a hard time telling the truth even when it is clearly in their own interests to do so.

A consequence of all this is that it is very hard to ascertain the truth of any defense matter (which is how the Pentagon likes it).

The new fighter, the F-35, which is being bought by the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps in various forms—and which constitutes the most expensive procurement program in military history—is a perfect case in point.

On the one hand, the Marines are just about to announce their first squadron (of only 10 aircraft) to be combat ready.

On the other hand, I have just read a report which states that even when compared with our existing aircraft, such as the f-15 and F-16, the F-35 is inferior when it comes to dogfighting. It cannot turn, or otherwise maneuver, fast enough.

Now, where does the truth of the matter lie?

Does anyone care?


Sunday, June 21, 2015

June 21 2015, Every life is a story. Would you risk death for a story?

I REALIZE, WITH SOME MORTIFICATION, THAT I HAVE BEEN SELLING BOTH MY OWN WORK, AND THAT OF MY FELLOW WRITERS, SHORT

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WHAT WE WRITERS DO IS HUGELY IMPORTANT—BECAUSE STORIES PLAY SUCH A SIGNIFICANT ROLE IN OUR LIVES—AND EACH LIFE IS ITS OWN STORY.

AFTER WE DIE, THAT’S ALL THERE IS—THAT WE KNOW ABOUT—THOUGH EACH PERSON’S STORY IS INTERWOVEN WITH COUNTLESS OTHERS.

Though I hold writing—and my fellow writers in the highest regard—for much of my life, I have tended to think of my own writing as entertaining enough, but not really significant in the scheme of things (except where I have ben working for a cause—as is frequently my habit).

For instance, on a scale of 1 to 10—without having given a great deal of thought to the matter, if asked about their value to society, I might initially have mentally rated members of the medical profession as being at 10, effective teachers at 9—and so on.

I say ‘might have’ because I am no fan of the medical profession. However, I am not trying to be over-analytical here—but more to give a conventional response.

Though teachers are common, effective teachers are comparatively rare—but wonderful to encounter and experience. It’s a sad thing that society largely seems to be unable to identify and encourage the latter.

On that basis, I guess I would have rated my own writing contribution as being a worthy 4—useful enough, but very far from essential. Quite where I would put most politicians is an interesting question. Currently, Congress has something like an 8 percent approval rating—and I have to wonder if it is not too high.

Let me stress that what I am talking about has much more to do with learned behavior—cultural attitudes, if you will—that what I really think deep down. For the purposes of this exercise, I am focusing on behavior more consistent with the social norm--not the heretical observations, insights, and conclusions of my own decidedly unaccepting intellect. At a very early age, I came to the conscious conclusion that much of what I was told was wrong—and have had no reason to change my mind.

It was something of an epiphany—and I remember my age, the location, and the circumstances—but such details can await my memoirs.

But accurate though my insight was at that young age, one thing I didn’t then either understand, or appreciate, was the degree to which we have created a way of life where we tolerate an exceedingly high degree of manipulation—and, in many fields, regard wholesale lying as absolutely normal—and cheating as more acceptable than losing. 

But learned behavior—regardless of our inner intellectual behavior—is what governs our daily routines, influences those around us, and, inevitably, conditions our own attitudes and thoughts. After all, even if you despise the medical profession, if you consistently talk about, and treat, doctors as being superior beings—your own mindset will inevitably be affected (even if only subconsciously). Repetition does the rest.

To a very great extent, once we are presented with socially acceptable role models, we condition ourselves—even against our own knowledge, experience, and instincts. The pressures to conform are great indeed.

I am also the product of my Anglo-Irish/British public school culture which (at least in my day) regarded self-deprecation as the socially acceptably norm—and ostentatious self-promotion as anathema. Boasting was “just not done.” 

Apart from placing me at a huge cultural disadvantage in the networking oriented U.S.—where aggressive self-promotion (regardless of merit)seems to be genetic—that has undoubtedly also made a major contribution to my selling my role as a writer short.

I regret that deeply. I regard writing as a supreme talent, at least as effective as the medical profession in alleviating the ills of the human condition—and rather better at enhancing it. Beyond that, I owe the vast majority of the happiness I have experienced in life—and continue to experience every day—to the wonder of words.

I am proud, indeed, to be a writer—and an author. Writing is as good as it gets.

Stories are my life—and they make it a fine one.

The following is from the ever admirable Maria Popova’s website www.brainpickings.com I cannot recommend it too highly.

Neil Gaiman on How Stories Last

Stories have shapes, as Vonnegut believed, and they in turn give shape to our lives. But how do stories like the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimmor Alice in Wonderland continue to enchant the popular imagination generation after generation – what is it that makes certain stories last?

That's what the wise and wonderful Neil Gaiman explores in a fantastic lecture two and a half years in the making, part of the Long Now Foundation’s nourishing and necessary seminars on long-term thinking.

Nearly half a century after French molecular biologist Jacques Monod proposed what he called the "abstract kingdom" – a conceptual parallel to the biosphere, populated by ideas that propagate like organisms do in the natural world – and after Richard Dawkins built upon this concept to coin the word "meme," Gaiman suggests stories are a life-form obeying the same rules of genesis, reproduction, and propagation that organic matter does.

Please enjoy Neil Gaiman, https://soundcloud.com/brainpicker with transcribed highlights below.

Considering the scientific definition of life as a process that "includes the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death," Gaiman argues that stories are alive – that they can, and do, outlive even the world's oldest living trees by millennia:

Do stories grow? Pretty obviously – anybody who has ever heard a joke being passed on from one person to another knows that they can grow, they can change. Can stories reproduce? Well, yes. Not spontaneously, obviously – they tend to need people as vectors. We are the media in which they reproduce; we are their petri dishes... Stories grow, sometimes they shrink. And they reproduce – they inspire other stories. And, of course, if they do not change, stories die.

On story being the original and deepest creative act:

Pictures, I think, may have been a way of transmitting stories. The drawings on cave walls that we assume are acts of worship or of sympathetic magic, intended to bring hunters luck and good kills. I keep wondering if, actually, they're just ways of telling stories: "We came over that bridge and we saw a herd of wooly bisons." And I wonder that because people tell stories – it's an enormous part of what makes us human.

We will do an awful lot for stories – we will endure an awful lot for stories. And stories, in their turn – like some kind of symbiote – help us endure and make sense of our lives.

A lot of stories do appear to begin as intrinsic to religions and belief systems – a lot of the ones we have have gods or goddesses in them; they teach us how the world exists; they teach us the rules of living in the world. But they also have to come in an attractive enough package that we take pleasure from them and we want to help them propagate.

Gaiman illustrates this with the most breath-stopping testament to what we endure for stories as they in turn help us endure, by way of his 97-year-old cousin Helen, a Polish Holocaust survivor:

A few years ago, she started telling me this story of how, in the ghetto, they were not allowed books. If you had a book ... the Nazis could put a gun to your head and pull the trigger – books were forbidden. And she used to teach under the pretense of having a sewing class... a class of about twenty little girls, and they would come in for about an hour a day, and she would teach them maths, she'd teach them Polish, she'd teach them grammar...

One day, somebody slipped her a Polish translation of Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone with the Wind. And Helen stayed up – she blacked out her window so she could stay up an extra hour, she read a chapter ofGone with the Wind. And when the girls came in the next day, instead of teaching them, she told them what happened in the book. And each night, she'd stay up; and each day, she'd tell them the story.

And I said, "Why? Why would you risk death – for a story?"

And she said, "Because for an hour every day, those girls weren't in the ghetto – they were in the American South; they were having adventures; they got away.

I think four out of those twenty girls survived the war. And she told me how, when she was an old woman, she found one of them, who was also an old woman. And they got together and called each other by names from Gone with the Wind...

We [writers] decry too easily what we do, as being kind of trivial – the creation of stories as being a trivial thing. But the magic of escapist fiction ... is that it can actually offer you a genuine escape from a bad place and, in the process of escaping, it can furnish you with armor, with knowledge, with weapons, with tools you can take back into your life to help make it better... It's a real escape – and when you come back, you come back better-armed than when you left.

Helen's story is a true story, and this is what we learn from it – that stories are worth risking your life for; they're worth dying for. Written stories and oral stories both offer escape – escape from somewhere, escape to somewhere.

Remarking on how Helen's story changed him, he adds:

Stories should change you

 


Saturday, June 20, 2015

June 20 2015. Some words just don’t sit well with me.

I LOVE TO BLOG—BUT TRULY HATE THE WORD ‘BLOG.’

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I THOUGHT I WOULD GET USED TO IT—BUT I HAVEN’T. NONETHELESS, I SEEM TO BE STUCK WITH IT.

One of the things that I have learned as a writer—and here I am talking about fiction for the moment—is that if I chose the wrong name for a character, I find it very hard to develop him or her.

Somehow, words need to fit one’s mental image—whether we are talking about a person, a place, or really anything. The issue isn’t just meaning—because someone’s name doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything in itself (except to convey a sense of identity) but some intangible sense of rightness. Some things just look right (as in the saying about aircraft “If it looks right, it will fly right). Others (as in a snake emerging from a toilet bowl) do not. They strike a discordant note—which is a polite way of saying blind panic if you happen to be sitting on the loo at the time.

And, yes, I did once sit on a snake—which was sunning itself on a rock in Cyprus—but that’s another story—and at least I was wearing my trousers.  The snake, by the way, was completely naked!

I heard the snake toilet bowl story from a master at school. He had lived in India for many years and swore, not just that a snake really could navigate a water filled u-bend (apparently true) but that such an incident had happened to him (the jury is out). What I can say is that visits to the toilet, by those of us who heard the story, dropped dramatically for some weeks.

But, I digress.

What I am really endeavoring to do is to communicate the sad fact that although I truly love blogging these days (I hated it initially and took some time to come around) I remain uncomfortable with the terminology.

Does it matter?

It concerns me—just a little—that I haven’t been able to come up with a more evocative alternative.

I’m working on it.


Friday, June 19, 2015

June 19 2015 It is a great and wonderful thing to have a sense of purpose and to be doing what you feel you are intended to do. Unfortunately, it is not that common. We’re missing something major here. It is a huge loss as far as the human condition is concerned.

EVERY NOW AND THEN I RUN ACROSS A WRITER OF EXTRAORDINARY TALENT—WHOSE EXCELLENT WRITING IS MATCHED BY THE DEPTH OF HIS, OR HER, CONTENT

 

LET ME INTRDUCE YOU TO JEFF GOINS—WHAT HE CONVEYS IS PRETTY MUCH EXACTLY WHAT I THINK

 

Does Everyone Have a Calling?

by JEFF GOINS · APRIL 13, 2015

It seems everywhere you look today people are talking about what they’re meant to do. In different contexts with different language, we are all saying the same thing. We want our lives to matter.

Whether you think of this as a spiritual calling or as a more pragmatic approach to living a life full of purpose, chances are you’ve thought these same things. I can’t go into a coffee shop or restaurant where I don’t overhear someone at some point talking about this idea.

Is this just a passing fad or the future of work?

I read a study recently that said over 87% of the world’s workers are disengaged with their jobs. This means they either hate their work or are merely indifferent to it, punching a clock to earn a paycheck before they go home to do what they really want.

I don’t know about you, but this seems to be a problem. Is work just a means of making a living, or can it also be a means to a meaningful life?

At the end of WWII, when many men were returning to the factories and many women to their homes, Dorothy Sayers wrote a prophetic essay entitled, “Why Work?”

In the essay, she explained that work was not just a means to an end, but that the work in itself was the end. The worker, she reasoned, ought to serve the work. She was afraid of people losing the purpose they found during the War when aligning their lives around a central purpose and wanted to warn people of the dangers of seeing work as an optional luxury as opposed to a human necessity.

We are facing the same crisis today. There are so many messages on blogs and in the self-help section of your bookstore, all preaching the same Gospel: work is something that we should escape from. But what if that just wasn’t true?

Around the same time that Dorothy Sayers was crafting her essay on why we must work, a young Hungarian man named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was finishing up his tenure at an Italian work camp, where he learned to divert his attention away from his captivity using chess.

Later, Csikszentmihalyi would introduce some revolutionary ideas to the world of psychology, regarding work and creativity, arguing that we we need to find true happiness is to get in a state of flow.

Flow, Csikszentmihalyi says, is the tension between competency and challenge. It’s where what you’re good at meets what’s difficult. This is what we need more of in our work if we are going to be truly happy.

If the task is too easy, you become bored. And if you’re not good enough at it, it creates anxiety. The most fulfilling state for a human being is to not be at rest or to be overly stressed; it’s to reside in a state of flow.

So does everyone have a calling? Maybe. But perhaps a better question is: what will we do if we don’t work? What will we become?

And what kind of work ought we be doing? The kind that forces us to grow, that calls our very best out of us, and that hopefully makes a difference in the world.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

June 18 2015. The current disastrous American Business Model casts a long shadow. It corrupts, it distorts, it serves the Nation ill—and it wastes scarce resources on a truly mind-boggling scale. One of these days, there will be an accounting—and it could be sooner than we would like to think.

THE US. HAS LONG BEEN THE MOST WASTEFUL SOCIETY IN THE WORLD—IN JUST ABOUT EVERY WAY.

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IT STILL IS.

I’m not sure I can add much to the above illustration. It makes the point—up to a point—pretty well. The reality, of course, is very much worse. We waste just about everything—from raw materials to food to meds to water itself—and seem to think nothing of it. And in the process, we do severe and last damage to the environment.

If this is the current American Business Model in action—which it is—it seems to me we need a new business model.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

June 17 2015 I live in a veritable fog of insight—with visibility to match!

THE LONGER I LIVE, THE LESS I FIND I KNOW, BUT THE MORE I SEEM TO UNDERSTAND

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HERE ARE SOME THINGS THAT I DON’T UNDERSTAND (EVEN THOUGH I DO IN A WAY)

  • I don’t understand why it is so hard to explain to people who don’t write just how wonderful writing is.
  • I don’t understand why more people don’t read.
  • I don’t understand why it took me so long to realize how little I need to be extremely happy—providing I have what I need to write.
  • I don’t understand why we think a system based upon greed is the best economic system
  • I don’t understand why so many people are so profoundly ignorant about the day to day issues that affect our lives—and make so little effort to inform themselves or to do anything about it.
  • I don’t understand why most of us seem quite content to wreck and otherwise despoil the environment and the only earth we’ve got.
  • I don’t understand why we allow ourselves to be manipulated and lied to the way we do.
  • I don’t understand why creativity and creative people are, overall, treated so badly.
  • I don’t understand why interrupting  people constantly with text messages and the like is seen as good thing—when almost everything worthwhile requires focus.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

June 16 2015. Being outranged sucks! And it gets you killed.This is an outrageous situation—and the Marine Commandant should be ashamed of himself.

I FEATURE SNIPING (which I rate highly as a tactic) IN MOST OF MY THRILLERS, SO A RECENT STORY THAT THE MARINES LACK A LONG RANGE SNIPING RIFLE REALLY GOT MY ATTENTION

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BETWEEN YOU, ME, AND THE GATEPOST, IT’S A DISGRACEFUL SITUATION—ESPECIALLY BECAUSE THE MARINES ARE TERRIFIC SNIPERS

The hype is that the U.S. military is the best in the world—and that its warfighters are equipped with the best weapons. Though I have no doubt that the U.S. military is currently the strongest in the world—if all weapons systems are factored in—I doubt that either of the other statements is true. Certainly, the best American soldiers are as good as they come—but other nations also have exceptional soldiers. Anyway, “the best” is a meaningless statement in this context. It represents more bravado than substance.

Where weapons are concerned, U.S. weapons procurement is so politicized that I am surprised American weapons are as good as they are. After all, those do the actual fighting—as matters are currently constructed—rarely have much say in the matter. Largely, they fight with what they are issued with. Special forces have somewhat more leeway, but it is still limited.

Instead, weapons procurement is largely in the hands of the MICC (Military Industrial Congressional Complex) where all kinds of differing agendas feature (with good retirement jobs for senior officers being high on the list) and defense contractor profitability dominating all. Congressmen are paid off through vote-getting jobs in their districts—and contributions to their various PACs.  All of this rather muddies the focus—which should be on the utility in the fight.

Accordingly, I’m always agreeably surprised when combat effectiveness gets a look in. Of course, all too often combat effectiveness is irrelevant because, after decades have passed, and billions have been spent, such programs are cancelled. The MICC loves such programs because they involve staggering sums of money—a positive river of cash—and yet there is no accountability. Nothing has to be proven to work ever. It just joins the ever expanding graveyard of dead programs (the costliest graveyard in the world). And, by the way, the Department of Defense still cannot be audited (in defiance of the law). Congress continues shoveling money into the Pentagon anyway.

No, I’m not making this up. check it out. You will find the situation is exactly as I am describing it.

Marine weapons procurement is somewhat confused because the Marines haven’t really decided what they are supposed to be doing, or how they should fight. Their myth is based upon assaulting heavily defended beaches from the sea (which they did with exceptional courage and ingenuity in WW II and early on during the Korean War) but they haven’t really found an adequate replacement operational concept in this age of smart weapons—yet are determined not to admit to that fact.

In practice, ever since Korea, they have really functioned as ground troops much like the Army. They hate to admit that, of course, but such is the reality. But debating the correct role of the Marines will be a subject of another post.

The Marine sniper situation is much more straightforward. Thy don’t have what they clearly need—and have needed for sometime. The reasons are a gross failure of leadership, vested interests, and Congress—yet again—not doing its job.

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The following is from the Washington Post (which I feel has become significantly better since Jeff Bezos took it over)

The Marine Corps is known for fielding older equipment. In the 1991 Gulf War, when the Army was driving the brand-new M1A1 Abrams battle tanks, the Marines crossed into Kuwait with the aging Pattons — tanks that rolled through the streets of Saigon in the ’60s. In 2003, when they entered Iraq again, Marine snipers carried the M40A1 sniper rifles, many of which began their careers shortly after the end of the Vietnam War.

Today, the Marines’ primary sniper rifle, a newer variant of the M40, still shoots roughly the same distance: 1,000 yards.

Current and former Marine Corps snipers say their hardware doesn’t match the capabilities of the other services, not to mention what is in the hands of enemies such as the Taliban and the Islamic State.

“It doesn’t matter if we have the best training,” said one reconnaissance sniper who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to talk to the media. “If we get picked off at a thousand yards before we can shoot, then what’s the point?”

McCullar, who was also an instructor at the Marine Corps’ main sniper school in Quantico, Va., until this month, when he left the service, voiced similar sentiments.

“With an average engagement of 800 yards, you’re already ruling out a lot of our weapons,” McCullar said.

McCullar’s most recent deployment to Afghanistan, in 2011, was marked by controversy when other members of his sniper platoon were filmed urinating on dead Taliban fighters.

That year was also a period of improvised tactics on the battlefield, as McCullar and his fellow snipers often found themselves in situations where better rifles were needed.

“Sometimes we could see the [Taliban] machine gunners, and we really couldn’t engage them,” McCullar said. He added that if Marines had different weapons, such as a .300 Winchester Magnum or a .338, their accuracy would be much improved.

The Army, for instance, adopted the .300 Win Mag as its primary sniper rifle cartridge in 2011, and it fires 300 yards farther than the Marines’ M40, which uses a lighter .308-caliber bullet.

In a statement, the Marine Corps Systems Command said it has “evaluated several options for replacing the M40 series sniper rifle; however, the weapon continues to meet our operational requirements.”

The M40 is built by Precision Weapons Section, a component of the Marine Corps that is contracted by Marine Corps Systems Command and is primarily staffed by Marine armorers. It exists solely to build and repair the Marines’ precision weapons.

Chris Sharon, a former chief sniper school instructor at Quantico, says there has been a reluctance to cut the M40 program because it could make Precision Weapons Section redundant.

“Nobody wants to be the one who kills PWS,” said Sharon, who is also a former contractor for Marine Corps Systems Command, noting that killing the rifle would significantly downsize one element of the Marine Corps.

Sharon says the solution to the Marines’ problems lies in a system called the Precision Sniper Rifle, or PSR, which other services solicit directly from a private arms manufacturer.

It’s not that expensive,” Sharon said. “You could buy and maintain two PSRs for one M40. . . . All of our NATO allies have a .338 rifle, and we’re the only ones still shooting .308.”

Sgt. J.D. Montefusco, a former Marine Special Operations Training Group instructor, recounted a mountain sniper course in which he participated with a number of British Royal Marines during training in the rugged terrain of Bridgeport, Calif. Montefusco said the Marine snipers in the course were technically more proficient than their British counterparts, but since the weather was terrible and the British had rifles that fired a heavier bullet, the Marines paid the price.

“Pretty much all the Marines failed,” Montefusco said. “And the Brits just had a heavier round, they didn’t have to worry nearly as much as we did when it came to factoring in the weather.”

Montefusco added: “A .338 [rifle] should have been adopted while we were fighting in Afghanistan.”

The Marine Corps recently decided to upgrade from the M40A5 to the M40A6, a new variant that still shoots the same distance.

“You have to look at those programs and ask who’s driving the bus on this?” Sharon said.

McCullar, Sharon and other snipers all voiced their concern about the next conflict and how Marine snipers will stack up against their adversaries on the battlefield.

“We make the best snipers in the world. We are employed by the best officers in the military. And we are the most feared hunters in any terrain,” said a Marine sniper instructor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “But the next time we see combat, the Marines Corps is going to learn the hard way what happens when you bring a knife to a gunfight.


July 15 2015 I tend to think of it as “institutional nastiness”—but I’m searching for a stronger phrase for the kind of unacceptable viciousness that so characterizes many of our large organizations.

YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF INSTITUTIONAL NASTINESS—THOUGH I AM NOT SURE THAT IS AN ADEQUATE PHRASE BECAUSE SUCH BEHAVIOR CAN HAVE DEVASTING CONSEQUENCES.

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IN THIS CASE, IT CONCERNS AN HONORABLE MAN TRYING TO DO THE RIGHT THING—AND BEING SHAFTED BOTH BY HIS OWN SERVICE, THE ARMY, AND THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE.

I’m never quite sure whether large organizations attract and breed careerists—or whether careerist have a tendency to gravitate towards  such institutions. Operating with the cover of organization of size blurs individual accountability and tends to mean that dubious behavior is lost in the bureaucracy.

Either way, it is a readily observable fact that large organizations have a depressing habit of behaving badly—unless led by unusually good leaders (and, fortunately there are many which fall into that category—just not nearly enough).

Good leadership is the exception. I find it hard to stress that too much.

Most organizations are led by people of mediocre caliber, and even less integrity—which explains a great deal about the state of society today. The U.S., in particular, has never been richer or had access to such resources (financial, material, and intellectual) yet done such a miserable job for most of its population.

The economy is sluggish, productivity is poor, innovation is down, most workers are less than happy with their jobs, poverty is rife, whole sectors of the economy are a disgrace by international standards, and the political system has been suborned by a tiny ultra-rich minority.

On top of that, despite having the most powerful military in the world, we seem singularly unable either to win our wars, or even to end them in any remotely satisfactory way—if at all. In fact, you can make a very good case that some very powerful people, who make a great deal of money out of unending war, don’t want such conflicts to be concluded—and work hard to see that they are not. The power and corruption of the MICC (the Military Industrial Congressional Complex) should not be underestimated—nor should their ability to block, contaminate, and metastasize. The influence of the MICC extends way beyond the military area. In practice, it functions as a substantial component of the interlocking political control system constructed by the ultra-rich.

Careerism makes no small contribution to this unnecessarily unsatisfactory situation.

I have written about careerism many times in the past, but essentially it is a pattern of behavior which involves putting self-advancement before integrity and the mission—and being willing to do virtually anything if it serves that self-centered purpose. The right thing has no meaning in this context. A moral code is irrelevant. The concept of the decent thing is risible. All that counts is the expedient—the career-advancing—thing.

Normally, doing “virtually anything” involves making one’s bosses happy, regardless of the issues, and covering their asses—after making sure one’s own is covered first—in the process.

Keeping one’s bosses happy covers a multitude—but consistent practices in pursuit of that goal include:

  • Re-interpreting events (lying) to put one’s bosses and the organization in a positive light.
  • Suppressing bad news where possible.
  • Suppressing any and all initiatives, making no decisions, and changing nothing because, by definition, if you retain the status quo, neither you nor your bosses can be accused of doing anything wrong.
  • Blocking exceptional talent, where possible, because exceptional talent has a tendency to show up both oneself, and one’s bosses, adversely.
  • Blocking anyone who tries to rock the boat in any way—even if his or her cause is demonstrably good, and they are clearly  acting with the best of intentions.

Careerism is not confined to the military. It is common to virtually all large organizations, from corporate to academia—and it constitutes a core component of the current American Business Model—but it is particularly evident in the military, with results which are clear to see.

Where the Pentagon is concerned, careerists tend to gravitate towards being senior officers’ aides—since that guarantees them mentors, an inside track to the various clubs that make up Higher Command, and an exposure to the go-along to get-along culture that pervades the system—and which can detect non-conformists in a heartbeat.

The system requires a degree of competence, but has almost no interest in talent—except in rare situations when it is needed—but it positively excels at identifying anyone who won’t fit in. Indeed, you don’t have to do anything to be spotted as unacceptable. The one truly remarkable ability of nearly all careerists is that they seem to be endowed with a downright uncanny ability to sniff out, and oppose, a decent human being.

Decency virtually guarantees career death. If you are in the military, regardless of your talent and demonstrated heroism, unless you are a careerist, it is virtually certain that you will never make it past the rank of colonel. There are rare exceptions to this—but they are just that—rare.

The club of generals seeks careerism, competence, and conformity to the status quo. Courage is not a requirement—and both physical and moral courage may be a detriment, especially if demonstrated in such a way that has attracted attention. In Japan, the nail that protrudes is hammered down. Where the U.S. military is concerned, it just doesn’t get promoted. That said, it will probably get hammered too.

Careerist are not unpleasant people to meet—and are not necessarily bad people in their private lives. Virtually all are personable, most are reasonably intelligent, and many are good company and are regarded as “good guys.” But they have sold out—and though this lack of integrity can be hard to detect at the level of individuals, it is manifest where institutional behavior is concerned.

The case of Colonel Jason Amerine is yet another depressing example. Disturbing enough in itself, we should worry a great deal more about what this treatment of Colonel Amerine implies—particularly about the leadership.

The following story is from the Washington Post of June 11 2015.

Special Forces officer: American hostages held overseas ‘failed’ by U.S. government

Washington’s effort to recover American hostages held overseas is “dysfunctional” and mired in failures hidden by bureaucracy, an Army Special Forces officer once involved in the Pentagon’s part of the mission told the Senate on Thursday during a hearing for whistleblowers.

Lt. Col. Jason Amerine is shown here at Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo released by the office of Rep. Duncan Hunter)

Lt. Col. Jason Amerine is shown here at Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo released by the office of Rep. Duncan Hunter)

Lt. Col. Jason Amerine testified that he started working on hostage policy at the Pentagon in early 2013. At some point, he became frustrated with the inaction to free Americans and said he took his concerns to Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, after exhausting all other options. The Army, when it learned about his discussions on Capitol Hill, responded by removing him from his job, suspending his security clearance and launching a criminal investigation into his actions, Amerine said.

“My team had a difficult mission and I used all legal means available to recover the hostages,” Amerine said in prepared testimony. “You, the Congress, were my last resort. But now I am labeled a whistleblower, a term both radioactive and derogatory. I am before you because I did my duty, and you need to ensure all in uniform can go on doing their duty without fear of reprisal.”

Amerine testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during a hearing called “Blowing the Whistle on Retaliation: Accounts of Current and Former Federal Agency Whistleblowers.” He first acknowledged facing an Army investigation and communicating his concerns about U.S. hostage policy to Hunter in a Facebook post on May 15.

The case pits one of the first heroes of the Afghanistan War against the Army. Amerine led a Special Forces team there in 2001 that protected future Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Amerine was wounded by an errant American bomb on Dec. 5, 2001, that killed three other Special Forces soldiers. He later received the Bronze Star with “V” and the Purple Heart, and was labeled by the Army as a “Real Hero” in the 2006 version of its popular video game, “America’s Army.”

The Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) has disputed that it is investigating Amerine as an act of reprisal, and declined to say whether the soldier is under investigation at all. A spokesman for CID, Chris Grey, declined to comment Thursday on Amerine’s testimony.

Amerine told the Senate that in 2013, his office at the Pentagon was asked to help recover Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier held captive for five years overseas and charged earlier this year with desertion. He was later recovered May 31, 2014, in a controversial swap for five Taliban officials.

In this file image taken from video obtained from the Voice Of Jihad Website, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan. He was recovered in a swap for five Taliban officials last year. (AP Photo/Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video, File)

“We audited the recovery effort and determined that the reason the effort failed for four years was because our nation lacked an organization that can synchronize the efforts of all our government agencies to get our hostages home,” Amerine said. “We also realized that there were civilian hostages in Pakistan that nobody was trying to free, so we added them to our mission.”

Amerine’s team worked to develop a viable trade for Bergdahl, bring the Taliban to the negotiating table and fix the interagency recovery efforts, he said. He “used all legal means” available to recover the hostages, and then went to Congress when he ran out of other options, he said. That prompted the FBI to complain that he was sharing classified information, he said. The Defense Department inspector general later determined he did not, he added.

Amerine credited the Defense Department inspector general with handling a reprisal complaint he filed well. The FBI has previously declined to comment on Amerine’s allegations.

Amerine credited Hunter with influencing the Pentagon to appoint Michael D. Lumpkin, a retired Navy SEAL and current deputy undersecretary of defense, as the Defense Department’s hostage recovery coordinator. Doing so allowed the Pentagon to respond quickly when a deal was struck to recover Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban officials, Amerine said.

But the other civilians held hostage — including Warren Weinstein, who was accidentally killed in a U.S. drone strike in January — were left behind, Amerine said. One of the options Amerine’s team developed would have swapped seven Westerners for one Taliban drug trafficker and warlord: Haji Bashir Noorzai. He was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison after being lured to the United States in 2005.

Amerine told the Senate that the trade developed would have freed Bergdahl, Weinstein, Canadian Colin Rutherford and a family of three: Canadian Joshua Boyle, his American wife Caitlan Coleman, and their child born in captivity. He declined to identify the seventh hostage.

It’s unclear how the Noorzai swap would have worked. Bergdahl was held by insurgents affiliated with the Taliban, while Weinstein was held captive by al-Qaeda.

“Is the system broken?” Amerine asked. “Layers upon layers of bureaucracy hid the extent of our failure from our leaders. I believe we all failed the commander in chief by not getting critical advice to him. I believe we all failed the secretary of defense, who likely never knew the extent of the interagency dysfunction that was our recovery effort.”

This image made from video released anonymously to reporters in Pakistan on Dec. 26, 2013, shows American aid worker Warren Weinstein. He was held captive in Pakistan until he was mistakenly killed in a U.S. drone strike in January. (AP Photo via AP video)

Hunter said on the House floor last month that Amerine was critical in providing information that helped craft a congressional amendment that would require President Obama to appoint a specific federal official to oversee all hostage recovery efforts.

“Lieutenant Colonel Jason Amerine has worked with my office now for about two years on this amendment, and he is someone that really cares,” Hunter said. “He’s been working hostage stuff with about every government agency that there is, and he played a big role in getting this to where it’s at now.”

Amerine said he “failed” Weinstein and the four other Western hostages still in captivity.

“We must not forget: Warren Weinstein is dead while Colin Rutherford, Josh Boyle, Caitlin Coleman and her child remain hostages,” Amerine said. “Who’s fighting for them?”

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.


 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

July 14 2015. Economics for pleasure—who knew!

I READ GALBRAITH AT UNIVERSITY—AND LOVED HIM

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THE MAN HAD A MARVELOUS DRY WIT—AND ACTUALLY MANAGED TO MAKE ECONOMICS ENTERTAINING (WHICH IT IS DESPITE MOST ECONOMISTS).

"We all agree that pessimism is a mark of superior intellect." -John Kenneth Galbraith

The chart you see below says a great deal about why the U.S. economy is so screwed up. It is so lopsided in favor of defense, it defies credulity (and the defense figures, by the way, are seriously understated).

Why is this considered acceptable by most Americans?

Has it occurred to no one that maintaining a massive defense establishment—with bases in just about every country in the world (less friendly nations excepted) alarms other counties and creates an arms race?

Defense expenditure (a misleading term in itself) has been out of control since the end of World War II at incalculable cost to the wellbeing of most Americans.

It has made a small number of Americans, primarily members of the MICC (Military Industrial Congressional Complex) extremely wealth.

America does need to be strong militarily—but there is a difference between necessary strength and ineffective arrogance. As with most things in life, it is a matter of balance.

It is worth noting that for all this massive expenditure on the tools of defense and destruction, the American track record—where winning wars is concerned is lousy.

A rethink of priorities might be in order. This is a great country and its people need looking after better than has been the case. If the argument is that he first duty of a government is to provide security—which is what many consider to be the case—I question whether military expenditure is the only way, or even the best way, to provide it.

Such are the thoughts of a pretty good (concerned) friend. The present situation of egregious defense expenditure, coupled with rank social injustice whereby growth benefits only a few, is unsustainable.

Friday, June 12, 2015

June 13 2015. If we aren’t prepared to be swayed by the facts, we deserve the politicians we get.

BLATANT PROPAGANDA RULES OUR LIVES—IN DEFIANCE OF THE FACTS

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TO A TRULY FRIGHTENING EXTENT

The following is from a recent piece by Paul Krugman. He’s been calling it pretty much right for the over ten years I have been reading his stuff—and evidence supports him in spades. Yet, so many of us prefer to believe the propaganda.

One can but weep.

Oxford, Britain — One thing we’ve learned in the years since the financial crisis is that seriously bad ideas — by which I mean bad ideas that appeal to the prejudices of Very Serious People — have remarkable staying power. No matter how much contrary evidence comes in, no matter how often and how badly predictions based on those ideas are proved wrong, the bad ideas just keep coming back. And they retain the power to warp policy.

What makes something qualify as a seriously bad idea? In general, to sound serious it must invoke big causes to explain big events — technical matters, like the troubles caused by sharing a currency without a common budget, don’t make the cut. It must also absolve corporate interests and the wealthy from responsibility for what went wrong, and call for hard choices and sacrifice on the part of the little people.

So the true story of economic disaster, which is that it was caused by an inadequately regulated financial industry run wild and perpetuated by wrongheaded austerity policies, won’t do. Instead, the story must involve things like a skills gap — it’s not lack of jobs; we have the wrong workers for this high-technology globalized era, etc., etc. — even if there’s no evidence at all that such a gap is impeding recovery.

And the ultimate example of a seriously bad idea is the determination, in the teeth of all the evidence, to declare government spending that helps the less fortunate a crucial cause of our economic problems. In the United States, I’m happy to say, this idea seems to be on the ropes, at least for now. Here in Britain, however, it still reigns supreme. In particular, one important factor in the recent Conservative election triumph was the way Britain’s news media told voters, again and again, that excessive government spending under Labour caused the financial crisis.


June 12 2015. I grew up in big houses full of fine furniture and even finer silver, china, and other valuables. But, things alone do not make a happy home.

REMINDERS OF THE HAPPIER TIMES OF MY CHILDHOOD

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PHOTOGRAPHED IN THE BLUE DRAWING-ROOM OF OUR HOUSE IN AILESBURY ROAD, DUBLIN, IRELAND

ON THE LEFT, MY GRANDMOTHER, VIDA LENTAIGNE

IN THE CENTER, MY AUNT FANNY BRODIE

ONE THE RIGHT, HER SISTER, MY AUNT KITTY CAHILL

Actually, I’m not completely sure of the location because my mother created an almost identical room in the next house she moved to—which was Killarney Hill, Bray—which I loved (it was big and had 5 acres of land) but which my sister, Maxine, memorably described as a “house of evil.” She never explained why. I have some ideas on the matter. It is fairly safe to assume they had to do with sex. It was my mother’s main interest and yielded three husbands, numerous lovers, and 12 children. I was the eldest—a dubious privilege in some ways. Fun in others.

I associate the above three ladies with happiness because although I had a pretty miserable upbringing at home, and was sent to boarding school at the advanced age of five (which I hated) I loved staying with my grandmother (normally on her farm in the summer) and with my two aunts (collectively known as “The Fannies”) at Easter. They lived in Birr, County Offaly.

Sadly, I have very few photos of my grandmother. She was, as you can see, a very distinguished looking woman—and I absolutely adored her.

It was she who first introduced me to the world of books—and I have been in her debt ever since. She was a selfless woman who did more good in the world than anyone I have ever met.

She died in 1976 and I was heart-broken. I knew that life would never be the same—and it hasn’t been.

But, it’s a pretty good life for all that.