Friday, December 23, 2011


Steve Glines
145 Foster Street
Littleton MA 01460

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review of Jennifer Eagen’s “A visit from the Goon Squad”

I didn't like it. There is something about the last few Pulitzer winners that I haven't liked. I read the books and think, "how the hell did this ever get published?" Such is the case of A visit from the Goon Squad where we learn the story of an aging pop music promoter and his entourage but each chapter takes place somewhere different in time. We bounce forward, backward but when the disjointed chapters are brought together there is isn't much of a story.

The only book I can compare it with stylistically is Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. The book is written almost as a stream of consciousness with independent scenes that do nothing for the story. Faulkner at least started in the present and flashed back. Egan starts somewhere near the present and flashes back to high school and forward to some science fiction future where everyone talks like a text message and eschews tattoos.

While here isn't much of a story as conventional novels go I will admit to enjoying the almost flawless narrative. This is a literary novel. I would love to know the chain of events that lead to its being published.

Friday, May 06, 2011

I'll be at "The Writers Confrence at Hunter College" June 4th

Writers' Conference and Intensives The Writers’ Conference, now at Hunter College, is widely considered one of the finest fiction and non-fiction conferences. In addition to keynote speakers Nelson DeMille and Walter Mosley, the Writers’ Conference will feature twelve panels with a total of seventy distinguished writers, editors, publicists and literary agents promoting hope for the new age of publishing. Meg Wolitzer, Betsey Lerner, and Bruce Friedman will be conducting intensive workshops in the days leading up to the conference.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What's next?

For the past two years and then some I have been writing a novel which is why the number of blog entries here have been few and far between. It takes a lot of mental energy and concentration to write a novel. Over that period I have not written a single poem and only one or two short stories that popped up spontaneously. This novel was long overdue. Poplar Hill, this particular novel started out as a chronicle the life of my mother and her family. They were an American aristocratic family. There aren’t many of them left and they have mostly been replaced by the gouache vulgarity of the Donald Trumps of the world. 

I abandoned the first attempt at writing this story when it became apparent that the main character was not going to be Kitty Stevenson but her nanny Bessie MacDermot. I am tempted to make Bessie’s story the second in a series. Bessie’s real story is that my grandparents, as was the custom, made a pass through the orphanages of Ireland searching for intelligent children about to be cast off into the wild at age 12 but willing, grateful even, to be offered a life of service.  Bessie, at age 11 plus was whisked away from the orphanage she grew up in and sent to New York where she was trained to become a nanny. The book is written from the perspective of the 104 year old Bessie living alone in a nursing home in Florida having outlived all the children of those she served. It wasn’t the story I wanted to write then so I stopped writing it.

The second attempt clicked. Here is the briefest possible synopsis:

Poplar Hill is in the middle of the biggest ice storm in a century and Kitty Stevenson is having a heart attack. Her friends and neighbors mount an effort to save her. As she winds her way through the medical system, Kitty decides that as long as she has a story to tell she won’t die, so she tells her life’s story to Barb Barb is Kitty’s closest friend, confident and ultimately caretaker. Kitty came from a wealthy New York family. When Kitty was six she was put in an austere French convent school. During the Depression Kitty was told to leave the convent and find her own way home. After high school Kitty went to Germany to study opera and spend the money her father had invested there after World War One. Hitler had blocked the Mark. Since Kitty couldn’t take the money out of Germany she spent it. She lived the Cabaret lifestyle, she was Sally Bowles but with money. She photographed the Dachau concentration, shook Neville Chamberlains hand and met Hitler face to face on the eve of “Kristallnacht.” When thugs broke the windows of Jewish shops, she took in and protected her Jewish neighbors. As one crisis followed another, she found herself on a Jewish refugee boat heading to Palestine, in a Swiss chalet and on a train to Vienna during the Austrian Anschluss. She escaped Germany, just days before Hitler invaded Poland, arriving in New York on a German ship that had been ordered back to Germany by Hitler. Kitty’s quick thinking convinced the ship’s Captain to continue on to New York.

Of two dozen literary agents only one has sniffed at it and asked to see more, many have dismissed the proposal with a curt form email while the majority are as yet silent.  The literary ecosystem is badly broken but that’s not a windmill I’m going to spend much energy tilting at, at least not today.

So the story of Kitty Stevenson is largely done. While I wait impatiently for my readers to tell me where I need to polish I am confident that it won’t need a major overhaul. So while there is still work to be done on Poplar Hill my mind is wandering elsewhere. It wonders indecisively examining all the projects I’ve started and abandoned or simply outlined. As I said before Bessie MacDermot is high on the list.

The idea that I think I will do next is Tale of the Dragon. If Poplar Hill is based on the life of Kitty Stevenson Glines, then Tale of the Dragon is based on the journal of my father, E. Stanley Glines as he worked in China in 1920 – 1935. Think of a more sedate American version of Harry Flashman showing up at every major event in the history of modern china. He lived the life in 1920 Shanghai, shot his way out of a train robbery on his way to Peking, discovered that he was an unwitting gun smuggler and ran for his life as Cossack army bore down on Ulin Bator in Outer Mongolia. It’s the wild, wild west but in China. Sun Yet Sen, Mao Tse Dung and other characters wander through this work of near baroque art.

Also on the list and the nearest to completion in terms of words written (about 25,000) is War Stories. War Stories takes place in a run down bar in Watertown Massachusetts. The narrator is the bartender who listens to two old veterans and a civilian tell war stories. Most of the stories revolve around a vet who is never present but is the former roommate of the only civilian in the crowd. The story is fashioned after The Waves by Virginia Woolf, which has five characters and a very present, yet absent, sixth character around which the conversation revolves. In War Stories Jack and Peter Grimsey start out as roommates right after Jack returns from Vietnam. Jack and Peter both love sailing so they buy a sailboat together and there the problems begin. Jack is always almost sinking their boat and has adopted a fatalistic approach to life. The other two Vets are an old Navy Chief who served during Korea and the other, the owner of the bar is a ROTC marine Captain who spent the Vietnam War as an embassy guard. They have their stories to tell but none compare to the stories of Jack who lives to talk about it, he has 5 purple hearts, a bronze star, a silver star and is nominated for a Congressional Medal of Honor and is also charged with attempted murder of an officer and escapes Vietnam by blowing opium smoke in the face of an Air Force colonel.  

War Stories is a must finish book but it’s not the next one I want to work on, I have three more. The first novel I started changed names many times but the last title was “A brief history of Avalon. Avalon for short, is about the history of Newfoundland after Québec succeeds from Canada and the United States breaks up and balkanizes after defaulting on its debt. Obviously this story takes place in the not too distant future. Québec is determined to not only become a major force in North America but to reclaim the lost French territories in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. France having become an international superpower after taking over the EU intends to join with Québec in reclaiming dominance over North America. Only Newfoundland can stop this from happening and Johnny D., an expatriate American history buff and engineer, is called on to defeat a French juggernaut. Since novels take on a life of their own once you start to write them I had to quit when I wrote myself into a corner where Johnny D had to be killed. I think I have more discipline now and can control the story. 

The next idea is the one I’m most passionate about, besides Bessie, and the least developed idea is Jury Duty. Jury Duty is based on my experiences with the U.S. Judicial system. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been in any serious trouble but I’ve made it a point to watch how a trial went and how my petty dealings with the court system unfolded. I’m not encouraged. Petty corruption is rife and when I was called to jury duty for a murder trial I let loose my thoughts on the presiding judge. He was not amused and threatened me with contempt. I dared him to hold a juror in contempt when all I did was truthfully answer his questions. I told him I had seen cops blatantly lie on the stand, prosecutors knowingly make false statements and defendants’ attorneys so incompetent Perry Mason, or the actor who played him could have done better. I told him that a tie goes to the runner and to convict there could not be the slightest shadow of a doubt in my mind regardless of his instructions. When he objected I reminded him of the principle of Jury Nullification. That’s when he got mad. The tenor of the novel would be that of Twelve Angry Men but aimed at the system instead. I need to develop an outline and plot.

Finally, I have a Creative Non-Fiction project started years ago but abandoned when I realized how much research it would take. I spent about 2 years developing this project complete with a detailed list of items I needed to research: The Arc Effect.

What if the lost Ark of the Covenant of Israel were real? What if how it worked could be demonstrated? What if it could be shown to exist today, hidden in a church in Africa? What if the lost Ark of the Covenant were just the tip of the technological Iceberg?

In 1990, Graham Hancock published a book titled “The Sign and the Seal.” He detailed, via literary evidence, the travels of the Ark of the Covenant from its creation on Mt. Sinai through its disappearance and subsequent possible travel to Ethiopia. There is also just enough evidence in the literature to deduce how the Ark may have worked. If I am right I can not only recreate the effects of the Ark I can also confirm if the Ark is indeed in Axum Ethiopia as Hancock suggests.

Chapter 1 - The Nature of Insight

Chapter 2 - The Tablets of Moses - The literary effects of the tablets of Moses are illuminated, as are the effects of radiation. They are shown to be identical.

Chapter 3 - The Design of the Ark - The literary design of the Ark is discussed, as is the design of the cloths and accouterments that accompany the Ark. It is shown that the Ark displays a different set of attributes from the tablets themselves. The origins of the ark and the history of its behavior and migrations.

Chapter 4 - The Enigma of the Ark - The problem of reconciling two different phenomena is discussed and a solution proposed. Historic precedent is shown.  A verity of cause and effects are looked at and rejected. The Ark with the tablets enclosed display the attributes of a highly charged body. The effects of the Ark are can best be described as St. Elmo's fire.

Chapter 5 - The Ark Effect - The mechanics of the Van De Graff generator are shown. The mechanics of radiation induced charge is documented and shown and a theory of how the ark worked is displayed.

Part II - History Reconsidered

Chapter 6 - The Challenge - The accepted view of the History of Science is presented.

Chapter 7 - History Reconsidered - Evidence that the accepted history of science is wrong.

Part III - History Reconstructed

Chapter 8 - The Egyptian Scientist - Imenhetop and the gods of Khnum.

Chapter 9 - The Ancient Scribe - It is shown that there are ample literary allusions to radioactive substances.

Chapter 10 - The Travels of Moses - Placing Moses in the right place at the right time; means motive and opportunity

Part IV - The Philosophers Stone

Chapter 11 - Finding the Right Stuff - Geological explorations in Sinai and Egypt

Chapter 12 - Modern Alchemy - The simple chemistry of turning ore into the tablets of Moses

Chapter 13 - The Ark of the Covenant - Building a modern prototype

Part IV - The Quest

Chapter 14 - The Search for the Lost Ark of the Covenant, a trip to Axum

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Allegedly perpetrating a crime

It was the third time this week the reporter had stood in the middle of the street to report a bank robbery by saying, “The alleged perpetrator exited the building, hopped in a getaway car and took off at a high rate of speed and is still at large.” The first time I heard this I laughed. This was a professional reporter whose eloquence is supposed to set an example. Where did this guy learn his English? By the third time he said this I called the station to complain. There must be hundreds of English teachers cringing every time they turn on the news and listen to a reporter trying to sound as tough (and as stupid) as the first cop on the scene. “The alleged perpetrator of the crime,” he said. Is he really questioning the commission of a crime? According to Merriam-Webster word alleged means “said without proof, to have taken place.” He could have just said, “After robbing the bank the perpetrator hopped in a car and left the scene.” Not as dramatic but more accurate if you actually believe the cops that someone robbed the bank.

Why did the perpetrator have to take off at a “high rate of speed?” Allow me to parse this abomination. Speed is already a rate as measured in miles per hour, inches per second, etc. So a high rate of speed should mean that the speed is changing quickly. Isn’t that called acceleration? The reporter could have said: “The robber ran out of the bank, hopped in his getaway car and got away leaving a trail of burning rubber in his wake.”

He could have said that but then he would have sounded smarter than the cop he interviewed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Understanding Libya

Everything I know about Libya I know second hand from an ex-pat petroleum engineer who lived in Libya for almost 20 years. This is what he tells me:

The Libyans are considered to be the hillbillies of the Arab world; in general the Libyans aren’t well educated, they still live in a tribal culture and generally behave like spoiled children when traveling abroad in other Arab countries. They are not well liked. What is well liked is Libyan money and they have a lot of it. So much that it attracted petroleum engineers from around the world more than willing to violate their own government’s embargoes to go work there. A Texan once said, “Oh yeah, the US government is going to tell me where I can and can’t work. Right! Can they tell me where I’m going to find a job in Dallas? No!”

There is no native Middle Class in Libya. The professional classes are imported from other Arab countries as guest workers or are members of the now permanent Palestinian Diaspora. It’s these last that form the bulk of the Libyan professional infrastructure. Having no place to go home to so these Palestinians have taken root in Libya and form the bulk of middle management in both industry and the Libyan military. Indeed while the majority of the officers in the Libyan army are members of the tribes loyal to Kaddafi it is also true that the bulk of the non-commissioned officer ranks, the sergeants, are well trained and disciplined Palestinian mercenaries. Their loyalties are clear; their well being is, for the present, tied to Kaddafi. Change that and you change the outcome of the civil war in Libya.

When the revolt began there were reports of large numbers of military units defecting to the opposition only to turn into the undisciplined rabble being reported in the media today. There should be little wonder why this happened when most of the officers as well as all the NCO up and left leaving a hollow core of undisciplined recruits.

So why hasn’t Kaddafi crushed the revolt? I suspect the revolution is as much a palace revolt as it is a genuine uprising and Kaddafi is reluctant to let any large army assemble so he is content, for the moment, to use his mostly mercenary air force on obvious targets while allowing small units of his Army to prove their loyalty by local butchery. If I’m right then Libya will descend into the kind of lawless chaos we see in Somalia. I think one of Kaddafi’s sons said as much.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

China Goes to Nixon

I love reading this series. It reminds me of the thesis I would have written if I hadn’t run out of money (Oh the irony). This is why the current slump we’re I isn’t a normal business cycle:

A “normal” business cycle is relatively simple; it’s a swing between short term inventory and employment. When the supply of goods is low (relative to demand) then the demand for workers to create those goods goes up and with that wages and prices and demand. This pushes both inflation and inventory until inventory is appropriate for demand at which point excess labor is shed and the house of cards tumbles only to be regenerated as inventories shrink to below a minimal demand. This is the “normal” five to seven year business cycle. On a Swan diagram it looks like a circle over time.

He key to the business cycle is short term (consumable) inventory. One can go on forever (and some do) about what consumable inventory means from a business cycle perspective but the average Joe knows, it’s what he finds at the average store in the mall, stuff you buy that has a short lifespan.

That’s not the end of the story. Simon Kuznetz discovered that the economy also had a periodic cycle of about 20 years superimposed on the business cycle. Kuznetz suggested that his cycle revolved around the construction industry. Jay Forrester suggested that by substituting durable goods (washing machines, refrigerators, industrial stoves, etc., items with a lifetime over 10 years) for consumable inventory in a business cycle model a Kuznetz cycle would be the natural outcome. This might suggest that the housing bubble is the high inventory, low employment segment of a Kuznetz business cycle and it might be true but the story still doesn’t end there.

In the 1920’s Nikolai Kondratiev published a paper arguing for longer, fifty year, business cycles, the so called Kondratiev wave. When Forrester substituted Capital Goods (Hoover dams, houses) for durable goods in the same models he used for the business cycle a forty to seventy year cycle emerged. Kondratiev himself was able to show cycles going back into the late eighteenth century and Vilfredo Pareto showed (a bit before Kondratiev) that there were long wave cycles going well into the middle ages (known then as Goldsmith Crisises) and hints of the same in Roman times.

The Goldsmith Crisises were characterized by enormous unpayable debts and equally enormous paper wealth. Few people realize that in an age that accepted only species currency (gold) that a goldsmith could create fiat money by issuing promissory notes. Imagine an era when a peasant wants to borrow money to hire laborers to dig a well so he can irrigate his fields. He promises to pay the loan back from the increased production from his fields. Soon everyone of his neighbors do the same but the increased production drives prices down so no one can repay the debt. Substitute your favorite Capital Good here and you see what is happening today.

There are hints this may phenomenon may have been well understood by the ancients who had data running over multiple millennia rather than just a few centuries. The Bible tells of the Jubilee cycle, a roughly 50 year cycle at the end of which all debts are forgiven. One suspects forgiving debts was the obvious solution to what amounted to mass bankruptcy. There is also the dictate to let slaves go after 7 years and to let the ground lie fallow for a year. That would institutionally get rid of excess inventory and avert the typical business cycle.

However that’s a digression. Economics ultimately is a psychological endeavor, how people respond to economic conditions and perceived trends is what drives the real world economy. At the depth of a business cycle businessmen are loath to hire new workers until the business picks up and demand increases. Typically, inventories are high relative to demand, income is low and since no one wants to spend money the velocity of money is also low, people save if they can. Credit evaporates and the money supply (in the largest sense) declines.

We are in the trough of the first Kondratieff wave after the Great Depression. Our Capital stock has never been larger. Here in Boston the Big Dig is over as is the building boom. While some of our older infrastructure is in dire need of repair we don’t need any new roads, bridges, dams or other massive Capital projects. Industrial capacity is at an all time high even if demand is low. Our collective debt is greater than it’s ever been and with a soured economy repaying of that debt looks doubtful. Our instinct is to cut back even further to weather this storm. We tighten out collective belts and watch the economy shrivel still further.

We are, presented with several solutions. We can continue to tighten out belts and hope that free enterprise jump starts the economy or we could declare the equivalent of a Jubilee and simply wipe out all debts corporate, personal and national. Based on historical precedents, we will surreptitiously cancel our debts through monetary inflation. We’ve done it before. We monetized the Vietnam War and Cold Wars and look what it gave us the: the 1990’s.