Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Command Presence

A constant theme in the fan mail I receive is that my books would make great movies. Well, I cannot but agree (I’m scarcely impartial here) but I also know that the devil is in the detail and that many a great book has been a disappointment on the screen because of a poor screenplay, lousy casting, a poor director and so on. Conversely, sometimes books which look near impossible to transfer to the screen have been turned into masterpieces. Here, War and Peace and A Bridge Too Far become particularly to mind and I’m sure there are more recent examples.

As a consequence of this interest, some years ago I discussed casting the principal characters in my books on the web. Frankly that section needs updating but I recall mentioning that George Clooney would make an excelling Fitzduane.

Recently I received an e-mail from a Special Forces veteran taking issue with my choice. Let me quote:


I would suggest either Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Craig or Sean Bean. Being a SOG veteran, each of these three gentlemen strike me as having that command presence so palpable in Hugo. I do not get this serious 'vibe' from Mr. Clooney. He does not seem real in his roles involving warfare, violence or command. Much more of a caricature with a sneer, rather than a warrior.

I’m a great admirer of George Clooney but it did make me wonder whether Clooney is entirely happy when playing military roles.

By the way, all my books were optioned for the movies, and a screenplay was written but the producer concerned , Bill Todman, went on to make the X-Men movies.

Such is Hollywood.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Well, I have been forecasting a U.S. recession in 2008 for more than four years now largely because of the bow wave effect caused by the ruinous war expenditures linked to structural weaknesses in the economy such as: The fast rising National Debt; the Balance of Payments crisis; the soaring costs of Energy; an excessive dependence on Credit - and so on.

In essence, the Bush expansion has been financed through borrowing and has focused more on consumption than investment so its demise has been an accident waiting to happen. Nonetheless, I did not expect the rest of the world to panic, to the degree it has, at the same time. One has to wonder how many banks and other financial institutions worldwide have been infected by the sub-prime fiasco or been sold some other financial derivative of little or no value. Could it be that Wall Street is deeply and fundamentally corrupt? Yes, it could. Add in the fact that globally bankers are like lemmings and we could be looking at a bigger financial disaster than a U.S. recession.

How so? All too many foreign financial institutions seem to have bought the dubious financial products marketed by Wall Street to the tune of not hundreds of billions, but trillions and then add in the fact that far too much of the world is still psychologically dependent upon the U.S. and stir.

It's hard to be convinced by the proposed U.S. economic stimulus. First, it is too small an amount to have much of an impact on an economy the size of America's. Secondly, a great deal of it is likely to be spent upon imported goods - whereas what we need are well paid jobs in the U.S.. Thirdly, it will take too long to work it's way through the system.

If we are going to have an economic stimulous, and there is a strong argument for it, it should be spent on something sustainable and here it is hard to find more worthy candidates than Energy and Infrastructure.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Change of e-mail address

I’ve been having e-mail problems. After Comcast took over Adelphia, they continued to let voreilly@adelphia.net function for a while but recently cancelled it without any warning so now only victororeilly@comcast.net works. I was alerted of this fact by one of my friends but have to wonder how many other e-mails have not got through. I have learned that people are not very good at keeping their address books up to date – even if mailed to make changes – and tend to rely on the ‘Reply’ button. Sending them a change of e-mail address notice – even in capital letters – does not work. My suspicion is that reading is out and skimming is in. The two should not be confused.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

To Blog or Not To Blog

It’s curious how times passes. My last entry was dated August 20 2006 and now, over sixteen months later, I find myself living a bachelor life again after some 25 years – the last nine as a single father. My daughter, Evie (21 last November) is now seeking fame and fortune in Seattle and my son, Bruff (18 last July) is taking a gap year in Europe before heading off to university, possibly in Europe. I’m very proud of them and missed them both to the point of tears. But the whole point of bringing up children is to get them ready to live their own lives – and they were ready.

I stopped blogging for a while for several reasons: Firstly, I didn’t really want to write about my daughter’s departure at the time – she was the first to fly; it was too private and too painful. Secondly, I wanted to focus all my energies on book writing. Thirdly, I debated the value of blogging. It seemed like pointless indulgence – fun for me, but of scant interest to the rest of the world. Over time, I was to learn to the contrary. Simply put, numerous friends, acquaintances and readers were using it as way of staying in touch so I was much chastised for quitting, albeit temporarily.

I shall endeavor to make up for lost time. It's nice to be back again.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Bush Administration apart, what is the greatest threat to this country? China? Militant Islam? Or is it closer to home?

I was prompted to ask that question, yet again (I study this stuff) after reading a truly elegant essay by Michael Skube in today’s Washington Post – today being August 20 2006 and Mr. Skube being a lecturer at Elon University.

Titled: Writing Off Reading, here is an extract:

We were talking informally in class not long ago, 17 college sophomores and I, and on a whim I asked who some of their favorite writers are. The question hung in uneasy silence. At length, a voice in the rear hesitantly volunteered the name of . . . Dan Brown.

No other names were offered.

The author of "The DaVinci Code" was not just the best writer they could think of; he was the only writer they could think of.

In our better private universities and flagship state schools today, it's hard to find a student who graduated from high school with much lower than a 3.5 GPA, and not uncommon to find students whose GPAs were 4.0 or higher. They somehow got these suspect grades without having read much. Or if they did read, they've given it up. And it shows -- in their writing and even in their conversation.

A few years ago, I began keeping a list of everyday words that may as well have been potholes in exchanges with college students. It began with a fellow who was two months away from graduating from a well-respected Midwestern university.

"And what was the impetus for that?" I asked as he finished a presentation.

At the word "impetus" his head snapped sideways, as if by reflex. "The what?" he asked.

"The impetus. What gave rise to it? What prompted it?"

I wouldn't have guessed that impetus was a 25-cent word. But I also wouldn't have guessed that "ramshackle" and "lucid" were exactly recondite, either. I've had to explain both. You can be dead certain that today's college students carry a weekly planner. But they may or may not own a dictionary, and if they do own one, it doesn't get much use. ("Why do you need a dictionary when you can just go online?" more than one student has asked me.)

You may be surprised -- and dismayed -- by some of the words on my list.

"Advocate," for example. Neither the verb nor the noun was immediately clear to students who had graduated

from high school with GPAs above 3.5. A few others:

"Derelict," as in neglectful.

"Satire," as in a literary form.

"Pith," as in the heart of the matter.

"Brevity," as in the quality of being succinct.

And my favorite: "Novel," as in new and as a literary form. College students nowadays call any book, fact or fiction, a novel. I have no idea why this is, but I first became acquainted with the peculiarity when a senior at one of the country's better state universities wrote a paper in which she referred to "The Prince" as "Machiavelli's novel."

The answer to the question “The Bush Administration apart, what is the greatest threat to this country? China? Militant Islam? Or is it closer to home?” would seem to be America’s truly awful educational system.

It isn’t just bad. It is now spiraling downwards as academic year after academic year of poorly educated Americans in turn infect the next generation with low and declining educational standards to the point where there is no understanding of what world class standards should be.

In fact our general level of education is now so low – compared to other developed nations and many other developing ones – that our collective ignorance is now metastising into a core weakness in our national immune system. It is becoming a threat to our standard of living, our prospects for the future and, without question, to our National Security.

Ironically, many Americans are aware that there are serious problems with the K-12 educational system but they rationalize this knowledge by convincing themselves that, at least, their children are going to a good local school and, anyway, American educational standards at college and university level are the best in the world.

Read Michael Stube’s essay and weep. The rot is just as deep in the Third Level sector.

It just costs more to acquire.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Is the U.S. the cause of many of its own woes?

If a complete stranger walked up to you and hit you, you might well be inclined to hit that person back. In addition, you would, if you were a normal, sentient human being, also like to know the reason - if only out of polite curiosity, or because you would prefer not to be hit again.

Alternatively, you might mount your own personal War On Terror – better yet, at other people’s expense - and go and kill, maim and destroy in some local neighborhood, where you thought some local undesirables might be lurking. In which case, one would hope that men in white coats would haul you away and lock you up in a padded cell.

Frankly, I’m not particularly surprised at President George W. Bush’s lack of curiosity about our various enemies motives – his focus seems to be solely on using terror for political advantage, and I would not wish to stress the man by suggesting that his brain retain two thoughts at once – but I am a little taken aback that five years after 9/11 so few Americans seem to be either interested or concerned that a goodly proportion of the planet now holds the U.S. in low esteem, or wishes this nation harm.

“Could we be doing something wrong?” would seem to the next logical question, but somehow it is not being asked.

It’s time that it was.

Monday, August 07, 2006

We don’t yet understand the scale of the disaster that is the American intervention in Iraq. It’s time we did.

Iraq is such a disaster, from the U.S. point of view, that I don’t think either the extent, or the significance of it, has yet dawned on the American public. Certainly, the polls indicate that a majority of American citizens is concerned, but there is scant evidence that people appreciate the cataclysm that President Bush and his Administration have inflicted upon both Iraq and this country. If they did, the dominant emotions would be outrage and fear; and such feelings would be well justified.

In truth, that day may never happen because this Administration is more secretive than most - and lies without conscience or shame; the media continue to be corralled by their corporate owners, and negligent into the bargain; and Congress, which funded the whole miserable business without thought or care, and yet has legal oversight responsibilities for it, is complicit.

Let me list just some of the elements of the disaster. Its scale, over time, has the potential to be as disastrous for the U.S. as Japan’s ill advised decision to attack Pearl Harbor in 1944. True, the consequences may not be that severe, if we are very lucky, but the price, even under a best case scenario, will be horrendous.

  • After nearly three and half years of U.S. Occupation of Iraq, all we have to show for our efforts is a destabilized and impoverished Iraq sinking rapidly into the maelstrom of a civil war. Further, Iraq’s much touted democratically elected government has shown itself to be an ineffective sham capable of meeting only under the protection of American arms – which predictable situation, just by itself, destroys its credibility with the very people it is supposed to be governing. The military may claim that we have never lost a tactical engagement but, whether literally true or not, the reality on the ground is that we have suffered yet another strategic defeat just like Vietnam.

  • We have destabilized the entire Middle East to the point where a regional war, or worse, is a strong possibility. In fact Sunni states, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, are already helping the Iraqi Sunnis. As for Sunni, but officially secular, Turkey, it has been transformed from a strong NATO ally to a nation whose people now largely hate and despise the U.S., and where Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise. The list of other potential participants in a Middle Eastern conflagration is too long to list in full, but includes Syria, the Lebanon, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan and so on. Even Indonesia, with its large Muslim population, has been making concerned noises. There is the potential here for something even more dangerous than a regional war.

  • We have vastly strengthened Iran’s influence throughout the Middle East despite the fact that Iran is not only a proven enemy of the U.S. but also has imperial goals in a region which is of major strategic significance to this country because of oil. The Shia Crescent, dominated by Iran, is now a very real possibility.

  • Our occupation of Iraq has shown us to be consistently untruthful, brutal, corrupt, racist, indifferent to the rule of law, decadent, militarily incompetent, and incapable of protecting our friends. A consequence of all this has been that not only have we lost the moral high ground, to the point where we no longer have any credibility in much of the world, but we have shown that we are vulnerable to asymmetric warfare and can be taken.

  • By demonstrating publicly and regularly that we are at least as bad as Osama bin Laden and other terrorists have stated, at least in Al Jazeera image terms, we have vastly strengthened the terrorist cause, and increased the terrorist threat, and their access to major financing, for decades to come. In fact, our actions have fanned the flames of Islamic Fundamentalism beyond their wildest dreams.

  • Despite the U.S. being "The beacon of democracy," the media center of the world, and a nation which supposedly has more expertise in communications than any other, we have lost the media battle utterly to the point where our enemies have a virtual dominance of influence over not just Middle Eastern opinion, but, albeit to a lesser extent, over much of the rest of the world. Given the outpouring of sympathy for us after 9/11, and the general approval of our initial actions in Afghanistan, the loss of all that good will demonstrates quite remarkable insensitivity and incompetence.

  • We have wrecked the Iraqi economy, and done severe damage to our own, by spending over $400 billion so far and by incurring liabilities which may bring that total to over a trillion dollars even if we start pulling out immediately. To compound the problem, these funds have been borrowed, so carry interest, and will have to be repaid in the years ahead at the very time when demographics are eroding the tax base. Such borrowing is almost invariably inflationary and such trends have already started. Finally, to add insult to injury, we have borrowed much of this money from nations such as China who are our strategic competitors.

  • Oil was under $30 a barrel before our invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is now over $75 a barrel, an increase of over 250%, a financial blow of extraordinary significance to the average American – and just about every other human being on the planet – and one which will not only fuel inflation just by itself but which also is pouring untold billions into the coffers of our enemies.

  • We have killed, injured, or imprisoned so many Iraqis – people we were supposedly liberating – to the point where there is scarcely a family in the country which has not been directly affected by tragedy. Precise numbers of those killed are not known but are variously estimated at between 50,000 and 150,000.

  • The Iraq War & Occupation has cost the lives of approaching 2,600 U.S. troops and close to 20,000 have been physically injured to date with tens of thousands more needing some kind of psychological treatment. The costs, both human and financial, of such casualties to families, friends, and the Nation over the decades ahead are incalculable.

  • We have allowed our ambitions in Iraq to distract us from the very real requirements of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan – a country which, unlike Iraq, was genuinely tied in to 9/11 and where in 2001 we had enjoyed considerable initial success. A consequence of this neglect has been a weakening of Afghanistan’s fledgling democratic government and a rebirth of the Taliban through the active support of certain powerful elements in Pakistan, a Muslim nuclear state. Indeed, the Taliban have not just been given refuge in Pakistan but they have re-emerged, trained and re-armed, in considerable strength. Of course, according to the Bush Administration, Pakistan is an ally in the War on Terror which begs the question of why it remains such a haven for the Taliban. One then has to realize that Pakistan abuts Iran, a Moslem state with nuclear ambitions, to appreciate the seriousness of the error we have made in neglecting Afghanistan.

  • Finally, Americans need to realize that apart from strengthening our enemies, our Iraq misadventure has left us with a tired, worn-out and disillusioned military whose equipment now needs to be replaced at vast expense across the board. What does vast expense mean? Hundreds of billions. How will this be funded? By borrowings which will eventually have to be re-paid by the American taxpayer.

Quite how an exercise which strengthens our enemies, and leaves us weaker, serves the National Interest is a matter the American voter may care to ponder.