Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Top 10 Things Never Say to a Bird

  • 10. What lovely plumage. You come here often?
  • 9. It's not you, you're fine. It's your friends.
  • 8. Can you not do that when I'm under you?
  • 7. Do you want a bread crumb or can you do without?
  • 6. The shower curtain at the bird bath is broken.
  • 5. I have a nice comfy bird cage in my house. Wanna try?
  • 4. Didn't I see you in the shopping mall the other day?
  • 3. I'm an ornithologist and I'd like you to take part in my study.
  • 2. Want to say hi to kitty?
  • 1. Don't you know any other songs?


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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bestseller Or Literary Mode As a Writer?

Do readers and buyers of bestselling books want literary prose? Or do they prefer fast-paced writing without the frills and the deep thoughts?

Do readers expect good writing inside bestselling books? In most cases, I don't. There are some on the bestseller lists who are superior writers. But I would say most aren't.

A writer makes a choice. You write one way or the other. You Write with a different mindset when writing a bestseller as opposed to a work of literature. Combining the two is what passes through most writers' minds. You want both! High quality and high sales!

Great books have been bestsellers. But when I look at the top of the bestseller lists I don't see many that likely will stand the test of time. They will sell a lot of copies soon after publication but eventually will be all but forgotten.

Genre fiction demands that you write in a bestselling mode rather than literary mode, doesn't it? It seems literary prose can work against the necessities of a genre story. Or is it simply that not many writers have the skill or desire to pull it off? Most writers would rather sell a lot of books rather than great writers if that were the choice, wouldn't they? Most fiction that is published was written with the intent of selling a lot of copies, not being great writing and damn the sales.

But that's how most writers acquire an agent and a book deal. The potential for sales.

Do writers consciously make a decision in their minds, while they write, to go for lower-quality prose in the interests of potential sales? Isn't there a sense that if you write too well you are subverting genre fiction and your chances of sales decrease?

Some great writers became famous and therefore their books sell well. Writers like John Updike, John Irving, Vladimir Nabokov. Their fame translates to increased sales, despite their literary intentions.

Is it a good idea to start with bestselling manuscripts, go for genre fiction, and then later write literary fiction, if desired, when you've already built an audience? Is it harder to develop and audience if you start with literary prose as opposed to bestselling prose?

Some writers no doubt could never help themselves and always wanted a career as a literary author. They started that way because that was always their interest. Can someone move from bestseller mode, become famous, and then switch to literary mode? Who has done that? Don't all great writers start out writing literary fiction?

Imagine if Robert Ludlum had suddenly stopped writing thrillers and published literary fiction. Wouldn't that be odd? The sales of famous authors are ties to the type of fiction they produce. If they stop and switch to something else, most of their audience would leave them, wouldn't they?

Could it be I'm unfair to bestsellers? Are they written on a higher level than I think? Should I have a higher opinion of the literary quality of the top sellers in mysteries, thrillers, romances, science fiction? To me, the quality doesn't measure up to the likes of Bellow, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Cheever and all the gang.

Bestselling authors aren't trying to be literary. It's all about intent. It's all about the choice you make as an author. Bestseller or litterateur?


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Monday, March 24, 2014

Malaysia Flight MH370: Indian Ocean Fate

It was announced today by the Malaysian Prime Minister that the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 went down in the south Indian Ocean, far from any possible landing site, and all aboard are presumed dead.

The fate of the plane is based on Inmarsat satellite data. The plane is believed to have gone down about 1,500 miles southwest of Perth, Australia.

What the plane was doing in that remote place and why has not yet been discovered. Either it was taken there deliberately by one or both of the pilots or the aircraft flew on autopilot until it ran out of fuel.

I speculated last week that the pilot Zaharie Shah deliberately flew the plane to a remote location as a result of his own emotional trauma. There is still no compelling reason to believe the pilot wasn't responsible for the crash.

Retrieving the plane's black box is considered crucial to discovering the true story of the plane's fate. The US Pacific Command is sending a black box locator to the south Indian Ocean in case a debris field is located.


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Friday, March 21, 2014

Top 10 Things Never Say to an Artist

  • 10. I have one just like that at home!
  • 9. You follow that popular YouTube video just like everybody else!
  • 8. It's like Norman Rockwell through the eyes of a child
  • 7. This painting explains to me why artists starve
  • 6. I've got that paint-by-the-numbers book, too
  • 5. Did you run out of paint, or what?
  • 4. I'll buy it but I really only want that magnificent frame!
  • 3. Do you have anything with zombies?
  • 2. My 6-year-old paints too and hers look just like yours!
  • 1. Isn't that upside down?

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Emotional Trauma Theory

If Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crashed into the south Indian Ocean somewhere off the western coast of Australia, it raises the question why anyone would fly there.

Such a route would mean:

  • There is no destination
  • No intent to crash the plane into a building
  • No intention of landing on a remote airstrip and hiding the plane

The point is to evade radar and "disappear" so no one knows where the plane is. The pilot deliberately headed south toward Antarctica until it ran out of fuel and crashed the plane in a part of the world no one monitors closely. That was the point all along.

It's a childish action, a tantrum, that is the result of emotional trauma. Assuming the pilot, Capt. Zaharie Shah did this deliberately, why would he be on edge psychologically?

  • Flight simulator at home with data recently deleted
  • Attended trial of his political pal (and distant relative as well) Anwar Ibrahim and was upset at the result
  • His family reportedly estranged and moved out of his house days before the flight

That's quite a lot of evidence in just a very short period of time suggesting a problem inside the head of Shah. There is no evidence the co-pilot had any particular issues prior to the flight. There is too much strangeness to chalk it up to coincidence.

Shah's friend, the opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim, was convicted of homosexuality and sentenced to several years in jail. It must be asked what role, if any, the subject of homosexuality played in Shah's meltdown. Is it a sensitive personal issue for him, despite his wife and children? To crash a plane with 239 people over a court ruling of someone who was supposedly nothing more than a political friend? Were they closer than that? 239 lives suggest so. Would Shah have crashed the plane over the jailing of any other person, including his wife and children?

The point of all this was to hide from the world, to create a public relations disaster for Malaysia, which would be held up to ridicule and its airline business hurt because it lost a jumbo jet.

The pilot had no concern for his passengers, which included many Muslims, like himself, though the majority were from China and presumably didn't share the same religion. There is nothing logical about the plane's flight. It can only be understood in terms of emotion and psychological trauma.

How did Shah incapacitate the others on the flight? Did he have access to a gun or knife in the cockpit? Will any of the crew or passengers be found with bullet or knife wounds?


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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Top 10 Things Never Say to a Comedian

  • 10. How come all your jokes are on the internet?
  • 9. Do you pay the club or do they pay you?
  • 8. That didn't sound like a joke. Was it?
  • 7. Do you have your own laugh track for live performances or does the club provide it?
  • 6. It looked like you were lip syncing your jokes.
  • 5. I thought it was funny but that just wasn't a quantum physics kind of crowd.
  • 4. How much do you typically pay for your jokes?
  • 3. Do you have a website where you explain your jokes?
  • 2. You'll need to keep in mind they use a Vaudeville hook at this club.
  • 1. I thought girls loved funny men!


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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Top 10 Things Never Say to a Dead Author

  • 10. Everybody has forgotten you...except me.
  • 9. You should've tried to create a memorable character.
  • 8. It's as if you never wrote anything.
  • 7. I asked the librarian if anybody wrote a biography of you and she almost died laughing.
  • 6. They found someone to complete your last unfinished novel. Justin Bieber.
  • 5. Thank god you can't write any more books--oh wait, you're Robert Ludlum, never mind.
  • 4. You know those famous authors you had literary feuds with? They're still alive.
  • 3. I can't find any of your books at the library. Amazon doesn't have any either.
  • 2. No one seems to have been influenced by you.
  • 1. At least you don't need to worry about more bad reviews.


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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: The Tintin Theory

Satellite data suggests the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was pinpointed somewhere in the Indian Ocean south of Indonesia.

The advantage of that route would be a lack of radar to detect the presence of the plane.

It would suggest the plane veered westward from Kuala Lumpur, through the Malacca Strait, then further west and then south of Indonesia in the Indian Ocean, where presumably it could travel back eastward between Australia and Indonesia undetected.

The destination would then be either in the Indonesian islands of Nusa Tengarra, or North to Borneo and East Malaysia.

In the Adventures of Tintin, volume 22 is called "Flight 714" (1968) and the plot concerns a hijacked airplane taken to Nusa Tengarra.

But why would anyone hijack an airplane and take it to that area? To land in a remote area, refuel, and then use the plane as a missile, like on 9/11?

But as time goes on, chances increase that the plane would be discovered and the plot thwarted, so that is unlikely. It seems more likely the plane crashed in the Indian Ocean.

In the Tintin story, a millionaire was kidnapped with the intent of stealing his money. That seems not a possibility in this case.

It remains to be seen whether the Chinese passengers were selected for any particular purpose, such as a statement about Xinjiang, or if they were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.


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Friday, March 14, 2014

Top 10 Things Never Say to a Librarian

  • 10. How come y'all so damn ugly?
  • 9. Do I have to return these?
  • 8. Is it true you librarians are a bunch of radical commies?
  • 7. Can I sleep here overnight?
  • 6. Do you ever clean these CD cases?
  • 5. You needed a master's degree for a job like this?
  • 4. Do you have any Rush Limbaugh books?
  • 3. Did you know the books are out of order?
  • 2. Can you direct me to the section of the library without any bums in it?
  • 1. This book isn't on the shelf and it isn't checked out. Where is it?


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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Top 10 Things Never Say to a Poet

  • 10. What do you do for money?
  • 9. Shakespeare would vomit...but I like it.
  • 8. You're planning to teach, right?
  • 7. Plath, Sexton, Berryman...and now you, in their footsteps.
  • 6. Are you trying to sell these or just give them away?
  • 5. Whenever you find your unique voice you'll be amazing.
  • 4. How about that! You didn't use one word I didn't immediately recognize!
  • 3. I'm compiling an anthology of doggerel and I want to feature your poetry.
  • 2. My friend's therapist recommended he write poetry, too!
  • 1. Isn't that supposed to rhyme?


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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Top 10 Things Never Say to a Bestselling Author

    10. Are you as surprised by your success as I am?
    9. Must be heaven to know you can publish anything and people will buy it!
    8. Have you heard from John Grisham's lawyers yet?
    7. Great job with that plot and characters you stole from J.K. Rowling!
    6. Did an intern ghostwrite your last book?
    5. Shouldn't you credit Robert Ludlum as a coauthor of your new thriller?
    4. Have you thought about writing a book with an original plot?
    3. Stephen King! Great to meet you! Oh no, wait...who the hell are you?
    2. You must have one heck of an editor!
    1. I love the way you write for money and to hell with quality!


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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What If Everyone in the World Wrote a Book?

My twitter feed is filled all day every day with tweets from people who wrote self-published books wanting to sell them. I do that too.

It's fun to go to and watch all the tweets scroll by with hardly any slowdown. Some of these books must be good, I'm convinced. Many are likely not, just as many books published by traditional publishing houses are not very good either.

Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing has opened the floodgates and authors no longer need to rely on agents or publishers and can do the job themselves. It's as if everybody in the world has written a book and it is available in Amazon's kindle store. Think of all the book launch parties going on!

But the process of separating the wheat from the chaff hasn't been perfected yet, not even close. Suppose every person in the world wrote a book. 6 billion books and all of them on Amazon. Which are good and which are bad? How would you know? How would you find out? Who's going to read those books? Who is going to post an honest review of all the books on Amazon?

I'm not sure there is any answer to the question, other than each author himself going out and "proving" that he is a good writer. The dreaded "platform." Can you judge a writer's quality by his online author platform? His website, his social media, his author pages, his own reviews. Is the answer to judging books reviewing and judging authors first?

The Answer to All Questions Is Data Mining

2 possibilities:

  1. Data mining database of books
  2. Data mining database of authors

Can a database accurately "review" books? Can we put all books into a database and it would tell us which are the best and which are just average? How to make qualitative judgments? I find this less likely than a hypothetical author database.

Data mining of author info may allow us to create a giant database of authors, their online activities, and produce a "score" for each, based on what they've said, what sites they frequent, etc. Could such a hypothetical database accurately rate authors and their worth?

Maybe a small test could be performed on known high quality bestselling authors. Construct a database of their works, their online activities, and see how to make sure the top writers get top scores, and then add unknown writers. Which of the unknown also get top scores? Then look at their books. Are they really top shelf?


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Monday, March 10, 2014

What Will We Do With The Moon?

Colonization of the moon has been proposed recently by countries such as France, Russia, Japan, and the United States.

But what will we use the moon for? What is its ultimate role in serving the people of the earth? A safe hiding place in case earth should become uninhabitable?

My initial impulse was to believe it will eventually be used as a dumping ground for getting rid of things we don't really want on earth:

  1. Garbage dump
  2. Radioactive waste dump
  3. Cemetery
  4. Jail

I no longer see any of these in the long-term future of the moon. Instead, it will become a playground and getaway place for the rich and famous.

The moon offers a relatively short space trip allowing the rich to get away from the people and stresses of the earth, and then return when ready.

The moon is much closer to us than anything else in the solar system, including Mars. Another planet would be too far away for any purpose except to leave earth with the intention of never returning. The moon, by default, will play the role of a short and temporary escape, like a vacation.

With this in mind, it can't be a dumping ground or a jail if it is to appeal to the rich. It must be a desirable luxury destination, and economically feasible. Imagine a resort with casinos, golf course, sports stadium, hotel, and health spa.

Travel to the moon will become cheaper as technology advances. The space elevator and skyhook, for example. Within the next 100 years?


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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: The Xinjiang Theory

Terrorism seems the likeliest explanation for the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at this time. The obvious target is China.

Most of the 239 people on board were Chinese. Only a few were US citizens. This was a flight from Malaysia to Beijing. The US is not the target of the attack.

Of the 227 passengers, 153 were Chinese. The attack was directed either at Malaysia or China.

Malaysia would be an odd choice of attack for an Islamist group. That nation has been in the news recently for its increasing radicalism and Islamization.

For example, Malaysia is refusing to allow all non-Muslims from using the word "Allah."

On China's end, only last week, the Kunming knife attack by Xinjiang separatists, which killed 29 people, was called "China's 9/11." Authorities have promised a firm crackdown on Xinjiang as a result.

At least 100 people have died in outbreaks of violence in Xinjiang over the past year. The region is heavily Muslim. Militants have been blamed for a recent suicide attack in Tiananmen Square.

China blames outside groups for instigating violence. It's not so hard to imagine a "Go" signal was recently given, resulting in Kunming last week and now the aircraft disaster.

Experts dispute that Kunming was part of global terrorism, citing the simple knives that were used, but that seems besides the point. The attackers were suddenly riled up and used what they had available to them.

If the facts continue to lead in the direction of Islamist terror against China and its actions in Xinjiang, "China's 9/11" didn't end with Kunming. It merely began there.


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Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Gareth Williams Spy in a Bag Case

Gareth Williams was an employee of GCHQ, a British intelligence agency, when he was found dead in his apartment August 23, 2010.

His corpse was found locked inside a large sports bag placed in his bathtub. Hence the phrase "Spy in a Bag" used prominently in the news media.

It is still unknown how he died, whether as an accident, a hit by a foreign intelligence agency, organized crime, or a sex game gone wrong.

Police believe it was an accident, while the coroner found that his death was likely the result of a criminal action.

Notes on these possibilities and evidence supporting each:

Evidence Suggestive of Murder (Foreign Intelligence Agency/Organized Crime:

  1. The coroner concluded Williams' death was likely the result of criminal action
  2. Difficult (but not impossible) to lock oneself in the bag without leaving prints
  3. No DNA on the bag locks
  4. The handles on the outside of the bag were fastened together with velcro
  5. Bag placed in the bathtub (evidence down the drain)
  6. No handprints or footprints in the bath
  7. Room heater on full blast (get rid of evidence faster)
  8. DNA found in bathroom too small to be analyzed
  9. Williams didn't have a knife with him to get out of the bag in an emergency
  10. A confinement expert believes it must have been murder
  11. No signs of a struggle to get out of the bag
  12. His family says he wasn't a risk taker
  13. Williams possessed rare skills hard to replace, he launched effective counterattacks to stop enemy computer hackers gaining access to UK banks
  14. His cell phone was wiped clean shortly before his death
  15. Williams made "unauthorized searches that left him open to blackmail"
  16. Evidence of at least 2 unidentified people in the apartment around the time of his death
  17. The front door could be opened through the mailbox by anyone, security problem
  18. Williams wasn't just an intelligence worker, he was a spy out in the field as well, traveling abroad
  19. He knew in some way the son of a billionaire Kazakh oligarch
  20. He likely met with spies at his safe house apartment and they or he may have been followed
  21. One of his jobs was tracking the flow of money between Russia and Europe

Evidence Suggestive of an Accident/Suicide:

  1. Police concluded it was likely an accident
  2. Williams had recently attended the DefCon conference, where attendees can learn how to escape from handcuffs, not leave traces, etc
  3. It is possible to lock oneself inside that kind of sports bag
  4. Williams apparently visited bondage websites on his computer
  5. His landlady once found him tied to his bed and he needed help, suggesting a propensity to restrain himself
  6. Williams had just been taken off a job (distraught, suicide?)

Evidence Suggestive of a Sex-Related Angle

  1. His landlady once found him tied to his bed and he needed help, suggesting a propensity to restrain himself
  2. Evidence he wore women's clothing
  3. Williams apparently visited bondage websites on his computer
  4. Williams visited transvestite/gay clubs (disputed?)
  5. Williams made "unauthorized searches that left him open to blackmail"

As you can see, so far I've tallied far more facts that point in the direction of murder than for any other explanation.


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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

How to Get Comfortable While Writing

Comfort while writing is essential, otherwise, how can you produce your best work?

The ideal position for writing depends entirely on the writer. Comfort for one is agony to another. I may prefer a leather executive chair while you want to recline on your sofa. But you need to find what is necessary to be comfortable. Otherwise how can you expect to ever challenge J.K. Rowling or Stephen King?

The home works for many. But it is a living hell for others. Do you need to get away somewhere?

You may prefer to venture out into the public arena in search of a comfortable writing place. Maybe it will give you a fresh perspective on the world as well as your manuscript. A cafe like Starbucks or Panera. But you may prefer to be waited on at your table. In that case, something like Olive Garden or Longhorn Steakhouse. The idea of typing on your laptop next to a plate crowded with a sirloin steak and a foil-wrapped baked potato topped with a gob of butter suddenly appeals to you. Who couldn't write something good in that setting?

Or you may prefer toting your iPad to the local dance club at midnight and write your next chapter while everyone around you is tripping to the loud pulsating beats. Can you type and dance at the same time? Is that what it would take to unleash something on the world never written before?

Have you been selected for an Amtrak writer's residency? Good for you. Writing on a train, bus, cruise ship, subway, or airplane may be just what you need to elevate your manuscript to Big 5 publishing house quality.

In a public place, you lose control of your local environment. Is it worth it? For some, yes. Anyone can walk in the door and start talking loudly next to you. Or maybe the lighting isn't right. Or the chairs don't work well with your anatomy. On the other hand, you may be one of those who require a public setting to compose your best prose. You draw inspiration from not knowing who or what will confront you when you step out your front door and into a restaurant, dance club, or library. The danger ignites your literary fire.

For most people, we can list standard apparatus needed for comfy composing:

  1. A nice chair or sofa.
  2. Something to drink.
  3. Something to snack on.
  4. Music or background white noise, such as that provided by a TV.
  5. A pleasant scene outside the window.
  6. Your favorite writing attire (you do have favorite writing clothes?).
  7. Your favorite laptop or mobile device.
  8. The heat/ac of your room properly adjusted.
  9. The absence of annoying things or people.


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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

20 Reasons to Take a One-Way Trip to Mars

The Mars One mission to colonize Mars will start blasting off with human crews in 2024. The trip is one-way. They're not coming back to Earth.

1,058 applicants have made it to the next round which will include rigorous simulations of space flight.

Why would someone want to leave earth forever? Here are 20 reasons for anyone thinking about taking the Mars plunge:

  1. Nothing else to do. 23% of applicants are unemployed.
  2. The wife. Some of the finalists are married.
  3. Think of the publicity. A reality show is planned.
  4. This is what you have to do to get noticed these days.
  5. You owe somebody a lot of money and can't pay it back.
  6. The grass is always greener on another planet, even a red one like Mars.
  7. You did something really bad, like murder, and would otherwise spend the rest of your life behind bars.
  8. Nobody cares if you're on this planet or not, so goodbye.
  9. Your life is agony and you need a permanent change.
  10. If it's broke and can't be fixed, run away.
  11. Because coming back to what you left would ruin what you did where you went.
  12. No more cable TV commercials.
  13. A great way to get into the history books if you have no skill or talent for anything.
  14. Leaving for good is the only way they will ever appreciate you.
  15. You're doing it for science, although the idea of leaving the people of this world pains you greatly.
  16. Mars is the new French Riviera.
  17. You'll spend the rest of your life with astronauts just as psycho and unqualified as you are.
  18. When the Earth blows up, you're safe.
  19. There's no intelligent life on this planet.
  20. Obama, Putin, Kim, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, China, Cuba, Congo, illegal people, Islamists, communists, serial killers, politicians, voters, criminals, wind farms, sharks, mosquitoes, MSNBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Hollywood, rain and snow.


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Monday, March 03, 2014

Why Are We Afraid of Great Leaders?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign nation, and the lackluster response from western leaders, must induce all of us to question the suitability of the leaders who rule our countries.

Vladimir Putin ignores Russia's deep problems while invading and threatening his neighbors, causing alarm throughout the world. European statesmen and President Obama make threatening noises but seem impotent during this latest international crisis.

Think of the zeal of millions of voters who rushed to the polls, stood in long lines, and enthusiastically voted for Obama. Judging from recent opinion surveys, many of those people regret voting for him. Yet it was clear during his first term that he was unsuited for the job.

I think of all the famous politicians currently in the US government on both sides of the aisle, and I ask myself, aren't there literally millions and millions of citizens who would make better leaders? McCain, Boehner, McConnell, Pelosi, Reid, Biden.

We elect those with nothing more than a prominent bloodline, like the Kennedys and the Bushes, as if this were a monarchy. And jokers like comedian Al Franken. All unqualified by any honest measure. Yet the prominent names are reelected over and over despite enormous supposed "disapproval" of Congress itself. It's not an accident. The promotion of mediocrity is deliberate.

We settle for individuals we know, deep down inside us, are middling, but probably lower than that. My conclusion is that we don't really want great leaders. We fear them. Bizarrely, what makes us comfortable are rulers like those mentioned above.

Are we intimidated by great leaders? Do we fear they will push things forward and we just aren't ready or up to it? It seems as if great leaders are an anomaly, an accident, and we didn't really mean to have them. But the world around us reflects their inadequacy.


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