The Great Reset

The waters are mostly calm and the moon is radiantly bright. The lookouts are keeping watch. Reports of icebergs have been passing on the wireless, but the captain feels secure in the unsinkable miracle ship. Full speed ahead! The first class passengers are secure in their staterooms having fed on a sumptuous repast of rare delicacies. In steerage, the sounds of Gaelic songs are fading and the crowded bunk beds are rapidly filling. But wait, what was that sound? The ship seemed to shiver. No matter. The morning will come and all be well.

Not since the approaches of the first millennium and Y2K has there ever been a greater golden age of doomsayers than today. Y2K brought out loonies like Gary North who predicated the end of civilization as all the computer programs written in the (relative) dark ages of the 50’s – 80’s rolled over and died at 12:00:01 AM on 1/1/2000. Of course, the planning for this had been going on for many years and almost all the critical programs had already been fixed. So at 12:00.02 AM when the world was still very much with us, the Y2K’ers closed up their bunkers and shelters, shut down their websites and returned, techno-tail between their legs to the real world.

Today, however, the arsenic-laced juices are flowing as never before. YouTube is the repository of many gigabytes of gloom and doom videos. Spend a day watching these and you will feel that your days are definitely numbered. A zombie apocalypse is inevitable as is civil war, racial war, martial law, economic collapse, currency collapse, stock market collapse, bond market collapse, global depression, sovereign debt default, total financial Armageddon, peak oil, peak debt, World War III, Ebola, bird flu, the New World Order, Fukushima, the End of Days, terrorism, EMP-disabled power grid and last, and certainly not least, global warming, global cooling, and bee-mageddon. William Miller, founder of the Seventh-day Adventists was a piker compared to the army of doomists that now run free in the jungles of the Internet. The terrifying thought is that some of these gloomy predictions may come true. In fact, the odds almost certainly favor it.

Our desire for stability and order and our normalcy bias do not allow us to easily entertain the idea that we may be headed for a profound discontinuity. The more intelligent prognosticators do not set specific dates for the unfolding of their scenarios. However, the consensus is that something truly terrifying is in store for us, with the probable starting date in the later part of 2015 and running through 2025.

Historical and financial cyclicality are favorite memes. Jim Quinn of The Burning Platform’s hobby horse is The Fourth Turning – an 80-year generation-based theory of rise and collapse. Martin Armstrong’s cycles key off of the tendency towards governmental corruption of the dominant world power. There are debt expansion and collapse cycles (David Stockman, Gregory Mannarino, Jim Rickards).

Without a doubt, the principal villain in almost all of these collapse models is the rapid expansion of non-collateral based debt by central bankers (the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of China). This has led to massive asset bubbles (stock and bond markets, housing, collectables), the debasement of fiat currencies, and will ultimately lead to the collapse of confidence in the central bankers to manage the financial and economic situation. This in turn will lead to rapidly rising interest rates, collapsing asset prices (deflation) and economic chaos and breakdown. This scenario has been termed “The Great Reset” caused by “financial repression” – the inability to have honest asset price discovery due to massive money / debt creation.

Different scenarios branch off the main one. Some involve the collapse of the 500+ trillion dollar derivative market, perhaps spurred by the collapse of oil prices. A favorite is the replacement of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency – scheduled to begin in 2015. If this happens, the dollars that have been kept in reserve will flow back into the United States and potentially lead to hyperinflation.

The logic of these scenarios seem quite sound. There has to be a debt limit. Interest rates cannot be maintained at zero indefinitely. The stand-down scenarios for a slow unwinding face the problem that the markets are tuned to the current direction of the central bankers. Once there is a clear indication that this has changed, asset prices could rapidly collapse to their historic norms.

The wilder reaches of The Great Reset all involve bringing about a war by TPTB (The Powers That Be) in order to create an excuse for the economic collapse. In this model favored by (among others) Gerald Celente, Alex Jones and Dave of the X22 Report, the stage is being set by the “globalists” to achieve their dream – elimination of the world’s “excess” population and the creation of a New World Order.

The ultimate doom scenario is an EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) attack by a rogue state like North Korea or Iran or even a massive solar storm. This could bring down the nation’s electric grid for years and result in the death of 90% of Americans as all supply chains break down and most people starve to death in a few weeks to months.

What is a reasonable person to make of all this? Should a prudent person “prep” by moving to a rural location and loading up on non-perishable food, gold, silver, guns and ammo? Or is the world actually a semi-stable system that will always find a new equilibrium even after a series of serious shocks? Here are some thought questions that should be helpful.

  • Does the current situation fall within normal historical bounds or is it unique? What is the best historical analogy?
  • How resilient is the system to breakdowns?
  • What responses could be expected from government at all levels to different crises?
  • What vulnerabilities cannot be fixed, either because of lack of resources or political will?

The current debt situation falls outside the observed historic range. With the exception of low debt Russia, the normalized total debt-to-GDP ratio is unprecedented and rising. No significant deleveraging has taken place in the United States or in Western Europe. By these measures, the debt is unsustainable. The collateral (asset) basis for this high level of debt is significantly below historic norms with a global leverage ratio approaching twenty. The mountain of derivatives and bonds rests on an increasingly small sliver of collateral. Little of the debt generated in the last ten years has gone into productivity or real wealth (as opposed to paper wealth) generating activities. Corporations are using cheap money to repurchase their stock thus increasing its price. Corporate stock activists lobby against productive investment as the payoff period for this is measured in years instead of months.

The system has not been designed with significant resilience. There is a lack of redundancy, negative feedback (to dampen out-of-bounds events), and rapid response to threats. Even though public stock markets have so-called circuit breakers, much asset trading is done by hedge funds in so-called dark pools. These have no controls on them. The first ones out will be safe, all others will be ruined. There is no control environment or regulation for derivatives. Counter-party risk could create a potential domino effect in a crisis. Very little was learned from the near collapse of the financial industry in 2008. The primary response was to pump massive amounts of low-cost liquidity into the banking system though the purchase by the Federal Reserve of underwater mortgage-backed securities and other bonds.

Governments have proven singularly incapable of doing anything helpful to reduce the current risk environment. In fact, risk is increasing at every level of government while they are simultaneously raising taxes and draining resources from productive enterprises and individuals. In a crisis, the government can be expected to protect the powerful and ignore the powerless. There is a de facto oligarchy that decides policy regardless of the platitudes that are mouthed by various officials and their media janissaries. In addition, the government is now positioned to overreact to almost any perceived threat or challenge to its authority, while simultaneously ignoring other threats.

The current vulnerabilities to our critical infrastructure (electric grid, dams, water supply) are not being sufficiently addressed because the political will to fix these problems is not present. The most scandalous of these is the electric grid. Even though it is estimated that only $20 billion is all that is needed to build sufficient protection in to prevent a multi-year nationwide grid failure, nothing is being done.

While no one knows if, how and when The Great Reset will manifest, it is certain that the conditions for such an event are propitious and that little is being done to forestall or meliorate it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Four Religions of the 21st Century : Christianity, Islam, Secular Progressivism and Techno-transcendentalism

Although the second decade of the 21st century is only half over, the emerging outlines of the better part of what remains of the century suggests it will be a period of intense religious conflict. Not since the 16th & 17th century intra-Christian wars of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation has the prospect of religiously-inspired violence been as great.

Christianity is restructuring itself into a religion primarily of the Third World.

Resurgent Islam is on the move with the most radical elements of its two competing branches (Sunni and Shi’ite) each projecting themselves as the fons et origo of the next Caliphate.

Secular Progressivism is now the informally established religion of the West.

Techno-transcendentalism is just being born. It will challenge both the progressives and the older religious orders with promises of immortality clothed in the liniments of the present and not in some realm of ethereal afterlife.

And what of Hinduism, the religion of 1 billion Indians? It will be relevant only as it confronts Islam as is true of the 380 million Buddhists.

Christianity

Universal Christianity and its tribal elder brother, Judaism were the foundational belief systems of the West. Greek and Roman philosophy gave it intellectual sinews to add to its potent mythology of forgiveness and redemption clothed in human form. The Reformation enabled Christianity to live comfortably with the post-Renaissance world of reason and increasing scientific knowledge. While this road had numerous ruts, Christianity moved forward until the Enlightenment drove a fatal blade through its heart. Since then, it has stumbled around like a zombie pretending to be the paragon of health. It is rapidly becoming a kind of common folk religion for the non-elite, underdeveloped and underprivileged.

Its fight with Islam for European domination which was settled at the Gates of Vienna in 1529 is no longer a viable path. The robust virility which allowed Christianity to circumnavigate the world and control most of it is depleted. Yet, it stubbornly hangs on with significant growth in Asia, Africa and South America. The current Pope’s pronunciamentos, sounding more like Marxist liberation theology, would have been met with utter befuddlement by the Catholic hierarchy of the 20th century.

In the United States, evangelicalism still holds sway among non-coastal residents. But it is a rear-guard action that cannot ultimately withstand the cultural onslaughts that have been aimed at it by the minions of secular progressivism.

But, but … with all of this Christianity is still a powerful force that may like its founder be resurrected this century, clothed in newer garments, and given a newly burnished sword. Once the current Pope has been laid in the Vatican vault, a new Pope, might find the inspiration to return to the sources of Christian spiritual strength and face the three demons that threaten humanity.

Islam

Islam was hardly spoken of in the West until the late 1960’s when the Palestinians started their campaign of airplane hijackings and terrorism. Its resurgence has been periodically punctuated by dramatic murder sprees that are now ritualistically invoked: 9/11, London / July 2005, the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 and many less visible ones. Islam has periodically invaded the West and been driven back across the Mediterranean or from the Balkans.

Few people recognized the silent revolution that started in Islam with the publication of Sayyid Qutb’s Ma’alim fi al-Tariq (Milestones) in 1964 which was the spark that led to the development of political Islam and the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The deadly 1000 plus year conflict between the Sunni and Shi’ite branches was invisible to the West. When the oil cartel OPEC forced the price of oil to quadruple in 1973 and double again in 1979, the flood of money fueled the development of Jihadism, one of the cornerstones of Islam – the conversion of the world to Islam and punishment for those who refuse the call.

The Middle East is now heading for another significantly more deadly chapter in the battle between the two branches of Islam. Iran, emboldened by Western weakness is spreading its tentacles across the Shi’ite crescent while the Islamic State (ISIS) is the Sunni tip-of-the-spear in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Libya. While currently keeping their distance, ultimately, they will collide with utmost violence and possibly even nuclear results. The crypto-Islamic state of Turkey sees itself as the seat of the next Caliphate along with ISIS and Iran. Saudi and Egypt are negotiating with Pakistan to acquire nuclear weapons to balance Iran when they announce their anticipated breakout from an illusory agreement with the US and Europe.

Russia and China are playing a dangerous chess game with the forces of Islam. They feed the beast with technology, weapons and collateral logistical support because (in Russia’s case) they see the Islamist anti-Western stance as a counterforce against the aggressive push by Nato and the U.S. in Ukraine, Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. Islamists will accept these gifts and at the right moment, when the West has been neutered, they will turn north and eastward. Revenge is in the cards for the treatment of Chechnya (Russia) and the Uighurs (China). However, neither of those two countries will tolerate what the West seems resigned to accept.

The history of Islam is one of push then pullback. Periods of hyper-aggressive conquest have alternated with periods of quiescence. Islam now sees world dominance as its achievable goal. The stage is being set for an apocalyptic confrontation.

Secular Progressivism

Secular progressivism emerged in the 19th and 20th century as the “heaven on Earth” alternative belief system to Christianity. It is now the religion of the elites in every Western country. It is often confused with a political system. But like Islam, the political ramifications are secondary to the inherent promises of salvation and redemption.

To question its tenets is to risk being labeled a dangerous heretic who should rightfully be cast out of society. Enforcing political correctness is no different from the acts of the Inquisition. After all, heresy is still heresy. Conservatives do not understand this. They still believe that they are confronting what are fundamentally political issues that can be discussed and where compromises can be reached. That is a dangerous illusion. Secular progressives seek total domination of all institutions of society in order to enforce doctrinal purity. Their holy trinity is race, gender and class. Equalism, the absence of inherent differences among groups and the ritual purification and purging of heterodoxical thinking is their mantra. This is leading to the slow conquest of Europe by Islamic immigration and the conversion of the United States into a fragmented, racially-charged, divided nation.

But like all true religions, when things turn out badly, the response is always: “we must try harder.” The communist true believers in the West in the 1920’s and 1930’s and the “social justice warriors” of today burn with the same righteous indignation and determination to do “whatever is necessary” to create a noble utopian world without sexism, homophobia, racism, and every related “ism” one can imagine. And like the history of communism, it does not matter how many lives are destroyed or even snuffed out in the process. All that matters is the end. Any means that advances the process is acceptable.

But there is one minor problem with secular progressivism – it doesn’t work. And like the collapse of communism, ultimately its failures will first undermine and then overthrow it. The loss of belief and the despair of those who cast their lot with it could result in social upheavals that could rival the Thirty Years War. Religions do not die easily.

Techno-transcendentalism

Techno-transcendentalism has gone by a different name since the late 80’s and early 90’s when it was first conceived: Transhumanism. It is religion of transformation and consequent salvation through technology. The foothills of this new religion can be found in the early empowerment philosophy of personal computers espoused by Steve Jobs. That has continued and grown to now embrace the mobile app world with an almost evangelical fervor. The Apple Watch may turn out to be the emblematic talisman for this stage of development in this religion – the equivalent of the Cross. After all it could save your life through the monitoring and communicating of your vital signs.

However, it is in the next generation of emerging technologies where true salvation will be found. The scientists and engineers at Google Labs and others are already openly talking of the possibility of reengineering humanity to enable immortality through a combination of genetic engineering and micro-miniaturized “smart” devices. Uploading one’s personality to a computer was once pure science fiction, today it is being actively researched. If the current vector of development continues, these will not be only the dreams of the tech elite – they will become real. AI and robots are parallel technologies that promise to remove the need for most human labor. This Faustian pursuit cannot be stopped. Technology has a momentum of its own independent of any human intervention.

Regardless of how the capabilities evolve over the next 10 to 30 years, there is no doubt that techno-transcendentalism will become a powerful force and belief system. The promise of a dramatically extended life with a non-aging, disease-free body where people commune through direct interconnection and not through clumsy instrumentalities such as texting and Facebook will become the Holy Grail for many.

Isaac Asimov said “people don’t change, only technology changes.” Well, as brilliant as Asimov was, he was wrong. People will be changed because technology does indeed change.

Exactly how these four belief systems will intersect in the next decades of the 21st century cannot be easily predicted. What will happen when the 7th century Islamic purists are faced with the power of transformative technologies? Who will inherit the Earth? And how many people will fall victim in the inevitable clashes?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Who, What, Where Am I?

We all look for answers to the eternal questions. Perhaps some of them lie in the titles of popular songs. One of the advantages of having a very large library of music is that it can provide a dose of oracular wisdom if called upon. Here, in alphabetic order, is what the gods of music have bequeathed to us as the answers to the question(s) Who or What or Where am I.

I’m A Believer
I’m A Dark Pill
I’m A Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas
I’m A Fool To Want You
I’m A Gangsta
I’m A Good Old Rebel
I’m A Good Woman
I’m A Happy Man
I’m A Jazz Vampire
I’m A Little Bird
I’m A Lonesome Fugitive
I’m A Long Gone Daddy
I’m A Machine
I’m A Man
I’m a Memory
I’m A One Woman Man
I’m A Steady Rollin’ Man
I’m A Woman
I’m A Woman But I Don’t Talk Too Much
I’m Alive
I’m Alive, Don’t Bury Me
I’m Allergic To Flowers
I’m Alone Today
I’m Alright
I’m Always Touched By Your Presence Dear
I’m Amazed
I’m Back To Stay
I’m Bad
I’m Bad Like Jesse James
I’m Beginning To See The Light
I’m Blue
I’m Bringin’ Home Good News
I’m Burning Inside
I’m Burning Up
I’m Called Little Buttercup
I’m Calling
I’m Comin’
I’m Coming
I’m Coming On
I’m Confessin’
I’m Counting
I’m Counting On The Stars
I’m Dead
I’m Deranged
I’m Doin’ That Thing
I’m Doing All I Can For My Lord
I’m Done
I’m Down I’m Down
I’m Dreaming Of A Dream
I’m Electro
I’m Falling
I’m Feathering A Nest
I’m Feeling
I’m Flying
I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles
I’m Free
I’m Frightened
I’m From Nowhere
I’m Getting Too Young For This
I’m Giving Up On You
I’m Glad There Is You
I’m God
I’m Goin’ Away In The Morn
I’m Goin’ Down
I’m Goin’ Upstairs
I’m Going Down
I’m Going Down To Have Myself A Ball
I’m Going Home
I’m Going In
I’m Going on an Adventure!
I’m Going To Haunt You
I’m Going To Make A Cake
I’m Gone
I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Some Day
I’m Gonna Be Loser Again
I’m Gonna Beg the Moon Each Night
I’m Gonna Die
I’m Gonna Follow You
I’m Gonna Get You
I’m Gonna Jump
I’m Gonna Leave You
I’m Gonna Live Anyhow
I’m Gonna Live Forever
I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More
I’m Gonna Love You Too
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
I’m Gonna Make You Mine
I’m Gonna Run to the City of Refuge
I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down
I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry Over You
I’m Good, I’m Gone
I’m Happy
I’m Here
I’m Hot Hot
I’m Hungry
I’m Hurtin’
I’m In Here
I’m In Love
I’m In Love Again
I’m In Love With Vienna
I’m In Love With You
I’m In Space
I’m In The Mood For Love
I’m Into You
I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead
I’m Just A Country Boy
I’m Just a Lucky So And So
I’m Just Crazy
I’m Just Wild About Harry
I’m Knocking at Your Door
I’m Learning About Love
I’m Leavin’ Now
I’m Leaving
I’m Leaving Home
I’m Leaving You
I’m Listening
I’m Lonely
I’m Lonely And Blue
I’m Lookin’ for Someone to Love
I’m Looking
I’m Looking Out The Window
I’m Losing My Grip
I’m Lost
I’m Mad
I’m Missing You
I’m Movin’ On
I’m Moving To England
I’m My Own Grandpa
I’m Never Gonna Call You
I’m No Angel
I’m No Sun Expert
I’m Not A Woman I’m Not A Man
I’m Not Afraid Of You
I’m Not Alone
I’m Not Awake, I’m Not Asleep
I’m Not Calling You A Liar
I’m Not Crazy
I’m Not Done
I’m Not Drinking For Christmas
I’m Not Dying
I’m Not Going Home
I’m Not Going To Fight
I’m Not Human
I’m Not Human At All
I’m Not In Love
I’m Not In Love With You Anymore
I’m Not Lonely Anymore
I’m Not Okay, Now
I’m Not Sick
I’m Not So Tough
I’m Not Sure
I’m Not That Girl
I’m Not The One
I’m Not The Only One
I’m Not Your Boyfriend
I’m Not Your Cup of Tearrrrs
I’m Not Yours
I’m OK
I’m Old Fashioned
I’m On A Plane
I’m On A Roll
I’m On Your Side
I’m Only A Woman
I’m Out
I’m Over You
I’m Parkër
I’m Ready
I’m Really Concerned About Dying in the Fire
I’m Sam Bell
I’m Sam Bell, Too
I’m Satisfied With My Gal
I’m Satisfied With You
I’m Scared Too
I’m Sitting In A Room
I’m Sleeping Under The Dead Tree
I’m So Afraid Of Losing You
I’m So Excited
I’m So Glad
I’m So In Love
I’m So Into You
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
I’m So Sorry They Done This To You
I’m So Thankful
I’m So Tired
I’m So Young
I’m Someone Who Dies
I’m Sorry
I’m Sorry But…
I’m Sorry, I’m Lost
I’m Spider-Man
I’m Stickin’ With You
I’m Still A Queen
I’m Still Betting On Love
I’m Still Here
I’m Still Sleeping
I’m Still Waiting
I’m Still Young
I’m Super
I’m Taking My Audition To Sing Up In The Sky
I’m Taking Over
I’m That
I’m The One
I’m The One Who Knocks
I’m The Only One
I’m The Rain
I’m The Singer, You’re The Song
I’m the Truth
I’m The Way, The Truth, The Light
I’m The Zydeco Man
I’m Thinking Of You
I’m Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes
I’m Tired
I’m Waiting For The Man
I’m Waiting For You
I’m Waiting Here
I’m Walkin’
I’m Walking
I’m Watching You
I’m Weak
I’m Willing
I’m With You
I’m With You Tonight
I’m Working On A Building
I’m Writing A Novel
I’m You
I’m Your Brother
I’m Your Cowboy
I’m Your Girl
I’m Your Man
I’m Your Sacrifice
I’m Yours
I’m Yours Tonight

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

15 Ways to Know If You Are a “Femme Fatale”

Men are powerless around you and other woman are homicidal.

 by Peter B. Miller, author of Céline

 15-1

1 – In 15 minutes at a bar, 20 men offer to buy you a drink. A fight always breaks out.

15-2

 

2 – You have a special email folder that only contains suicide threats from former lovers and death threats from their girlfriends.

15-3

 

3 – The guy who does your hair starts to sweat and shake and has to excuse himself after 10 minutes for unexplained reasons. 

15-4

4 – You’ve been offered a bounty to join Tinder.

15-5

5 – The spy services of Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela have tried to recruit you.

15-6

6 – You hired a world-class hacker to erase your presence off the Internet.

15-7

7 – You know how to clean a silencer.

15-8

 

8 – None of your banking statements are in English.

15-9

9 ­– Two of your former boyfriends fought a duel.

15-10

10 – You have elbow-length black satin gloves.

15-11

 

11 – You own a floor-through penthouse condominium in the newest building on the water in Miami.

15-12

12 – Men who get to sit next to you on a plane immediately start to think about the lies they will tell their wife.

15-13

 

13 – Every six months, a new package of expensive custom-made lingerie arrives from Europe.

15-14

14 – You wear sunglasses in the shower.

15-15

15 – Scarlett Johansson crosses to the other side of the street when she sees you.

15-16

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My Second Act

In his novel The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald opined that “There are no second acts in American life.” This has been variously interpreted, depending on the one’s perspective. It could mean that we are given one main chance in life. Miss that and the curtain comes down never to rise again. It could also mean that each person has a unique destiny. One follows the path that leads from its inception until the end of the road is reached. When you run out of road, you are finished, for better or worse. And perhaps in a time when life expectancy rarely if ever reached 65 and when the constraints of custom, class, geography, and gender formed an iron cage, this sentiment was true. Today, the game has changed and changed radically. A wise older man from my twenties told me that the difference between his time and mine was that when he was young no one expected to be happy or thought it was their due. However, even when my generation reached retirement age, that expectation was still there. Perhaps this was the underlying motivation for the choice I eventually made.

This is a time when for many, their first acts are nearing an end. While it is rare, I do know people (primarily academics) who are finishing their career in the same place they started. The word “emeritus” now decorates their escutcheon. Some have moved on to consult in the same field, others are pondering where they will go. Not a few people are worried about how they will survive financially or about their health. Hip replacement has become a phrase that is becoming a more common parlance with some of my acquaintances. I am reminded by my more scientifically minded friends that our body’s warranty is a limited one and that we can expect the parts and pieces that have faithfully served us for sixty or seventy years to finally sigh and say “enough!” While this is not true for everyone (and luckily not for me) it is something we all eventually must contend with.

My career trajectory started at the beginning of the ‘60’s in high school when I saw my first IBM computer. It filled a room and had (gasp!) 2,000 storage locations. I wrote programs for it on punched cards. Since that time I have seen four or five generations of computing devices (depending on how one reckons these changes): mainframe, minicomputer, personal computer, portable, and mobile. In my first full-time job after college, I wore a white lab coat and was part of the priesthood that tended the behemoths that lived on raised floors in sanitized rooms. In my last position, I was involved in designing ‘apps’ for mobile devices that live in one’s unsanitary, un-airconditioned pocket.

In 2011, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area while still doing some consulting in health information technology, but wondering if the stars had finally come into a new alignment. It turns out, they had. I started writing a blog that was well-received. In 2012, I woke up one day and a novel appeared in the theater of my imagination. I started taking dictation from the characters and within nine months, it was finished. While I had always suspected that a writer was lurking within me, he had finally emerged. Was this the second act of my life I wondered? Almost.

In going to various writing workshops, I found something unexpected. When I walked into a typical one, I thought I would be bombarded with bad prose about growing up in either a dysfunctional family or a sociologically undesirable location. I was wrong, very wrong. What I heard shocked me. Much of the writing was good, very good. The prose was clean and the insights sharp. I also heard stories of how difficult it was to get published, how finding an agent who would take on someone new was nearly impossible, and how self-publishing seemed to be the only alternative. The final push came from a published writer who is also a good friend. She bemoaned the fact that her publisher could (or would) not help her market her books. Only top-selling authors get any direct support from their publisher (which of course they don’t really need).

I reasoned that a modern publishing & media company that embraced social media and related technologies and exploited all the potential of every property could succeed. My entrepreneurial spirit took hold at that point and decided that this would be my second act. I started a publishing company, Incanto Press.

My former technology friends thought I had developed a defective decision module and suggested that I should go in for a round of debugging. “Are you crazy?” was a typical response. I calmly assured them that, no, my CPU (Central Processing Unit) was still in good shape. The years of working in start-ups was my secret weapon. I knew how to recruit a great team and how to develop a business plan that made sense. Out of this Incanto Press emerged. Having never done anything like publishing before, there was a steep learning curve (which I’m still climbing). I had to learn the fundamentals of book production, printing, distribution, and publicity as well as the editing cycle and publishing contracts. Once I had made the decision to go forward, however, I was mentally prepared to master what I needed to know.

I used my network to find our initial books and then, as if by magic, the word started to spread and soon, other manuscripts started to appear. Our first books – four adult novels (Céline, Duet, Lost in Montreal and Perverse Wonderland) were published in July of this year and are available on Amazon, in Barnes & Noble and many independent bookstores. New books are in the pipeline, including our first illustrated children’s book (Lady Emma In Her Land Of Wonder, published in mid-August) and the first in a series of books about personal journeys (Letters from the Way, to be published later this year).

I’ve always loved books. I have a large library and my favorite places on earth are large, old-fashioned book stores. Being a publisher made me feel like a producer and not just a consumer. When I went into a book store, instead of simply browsing, I looked at books as something that was actually written and produced and studied them carefully.

There is a profound sense of excitement when I read a new manuscript. It can disappoint of course and many do. But when I find a work that is exceptional, what appears is a vision of the not-too-distant future, when that manuscript mutates into a book and that book becomes available to readers. That is the principal satisfaction of being a publisher, along with positive reviews, of course. It is not unlike being a developer who works on a new app and finally sees it perfected, debugged and for sale in an on-line app store. Apps come and go and their shelf life is limited, but a book can last for a long time. Even if it goes out of print, copies are still sold in the secondary market.

Incanto is still in start-up mode, but our momentum is building. We hope and expect at least one or more of our books to sell well. Our focus is now on publicity and marketing instead of just acquisition of new properties. We are also hopeful that we can exploit the film rights. Our business plan is to be a full media company starting with publishing but expanding from that to other media.

So, am I happy to have made the decision to become a publisher? A resounding Yes! I knew that I should not start a new venture unless I was willing to learn everything I needed to know (so I would not blind-sided by the unexpected) and I was willing to put in the effort to make it a success.

To all those who know that their second act is waiting, I say take a copy of The Last Tycoon and rip out the page where Fitzgerald suggests that you repair to the golf course or to a round of ocean cruises. Let your dream rise to the surface and let it take you step-by-step into your second act.

Peter B. Miller is the President & CEO of Incanto Media, Inc. and Publisher of Incanto Press. He celebrated his 70th birthday in May.

 http://incantopress.com/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Taking Up the Cudgels

For followers of this blog, the last two months have been a dry river bed. The explanation is simplicity itself. Once more in my life, I’ve taken up the cudgels of commerce (although leavened with some artistic yeast) and started a business which has almost wholly occupied my time and “mindshare”. Last year for various reasons I decided that I would try my hand at being a publisher.  Books have been my second skin since I was five. I thought it was time to “give back” as they say in the philanthropic reaches of Silicon Valley. I devised a unique business model for a “21st century integrated media and publishing business” and started to acquire properties.  This summer, the first four books will appear from Incanto Press (incantopress.com).  Immodestly, a reworked and reedited version of my own novel will be one of them.

Almost everyone I know has written, is writing, or plans to write a book. It makes sense on some level – the aristocratic has become the demotic in almost every endeavor. Music, painting and sculpture require a certain talent and training.  Writing does not. Words run around our brains like drunken monkeys and surely each of us must contain somewhere between fifty to eighty thousand words which have some lasting value. The estimate is that the number of blogs now exceeds the population of most European countries. Words, just words. Or are they?

Poetry and personal memoirs are particularly tempting to the amateur.  Poetry requires a few well-crafted lines, some unexpected metaphors and a modest soupçon of personal angst drawn from contemplating the wonders of nature or, in tenebris, the immensity and uncaringness of the universe. Memoirs are like milk spilling out of a ruptured carton.

A novel is more difficult. There must be a story that makes sense and is compelling (at least to the writer). Observations of life, both minuscule and grandiose, must be liberally sprinkled around. Sentences must erupt from the page like well-timed land-mines.  It’s a good hike up a challenging mountain.

Non-fiction, however, is where the sheep and goats look each other in the eye and part company. No amateur writer ever contemplates writing a significant biography (at least 3-5 years of dogged work). History is terra incognita. There are always political polemics, however. If a person can work themselves up into a year-long snit, then something passionate (if not necessarily coherent) can emerge.

I decided that Incanto would start with novels – both written and graphic – and move into certain areas that draw out a writer’s passion(s) without exhausting their energies. I call these “personal journeys.” They range from challenging physical expeditions that push a person to their limits, to inner voyages whose purpose is to discover the wellsprings of one’s own psyche.

Children’s books are another domain we will colonize. They have exploded in the last ten years partially as a counter-revolution against the dominance of electronic gadgets. Parents want to read with their children and not simply watch them tinker with an iPad. And next year, Incanto will move into books that are strongly rooted in particular geographies and especially cities. Travel and guide books are thin gruel for someone looking for depth. We will explore the well of being that is the Geist of special places.

Being a publisher requires working with writers. (Really?) Writers have souls that resemble Rubik’s  cubes. A lot of twisting and turning is required to get them in order. But once that order is reached, a satisfying harmony results.  Having known many writers over my life, I can say that there is nothing more pleasing than sitting around a table during a dinner and listening to their conversations. Words bounce around, pinging off the walls, finally coming to rest  in some utterly unexpected country.  No sports, no weather, no real estate prices, no politics, no decorating, no clothes, but rather something else. Something magical. There is often a moment when the word minuet is joined by all and we all feel transported. Pure joy.

I took up the cudgels because I still believe in the power of words. Remove the tweets and the posts and one can still find perfectly crafted sentences that can illuminate a room and even a whole civilization.  We will always return to the word because that is what our souls are made of. If we lose the ability to sculpt with words, then we are lost.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Diminishing Returns

One of the aspects of human nature that history and literature demonstrates is responsible for much geopolitical as well as personal misfortune is our inability to understand and apply the law of diminishing returns.  This is the official definition from Wikipedia:

The law of diminishing returns (also the law of diminishing marginal returns or law of increasing relative cost) states that in all productive processes, adding more of one factor of production, while holding all others constant, will at some point yield lower per-unit returns.

A more common way to say this is that to obtain a percentage equivalent increase of something, proportionately more effort is required. The asymptotic curve perfectly expresses it:

x8498ehp

At the start of a process, a unit of S (input) will produce a significant gain in R (result). As we move down the curve towards the right, it takes increasingly more units of S to gain an equivalent percentage gain in R. When we are close to the asymptote, it becomes prohibitively expense to produce any perceptible gain in R.

How does this phenomenon play out in human nature? Actually, in almost everything we do.  When you are hungry, the first few bites of food creates a flood of pleasure (and relief). However, as you continue to eat, the pleasure diminishes proportionately. [This is probably not a good example because the curve can  actually turn downward and yield less pleasure as we become bloated.]

This law was at the core of Epicurean philosophy: nothing in excess, everything in moderation.  Most commonly, I see this law playing out when people acquire wealth or become food or travel fanatics. After experiencing the ‘simply good’, the seeker must go after more and more exotic tastes and locations. There is now a growing industry of chiefs and restaurants that cater to the search for novel eating experiences. Trading up in houses can also produce an initial swell of pleasure that can quickly diminish. And, if you have unlimited money to spend, you can build or acquire more and more impressive properties. A look at Larry Ellison’s real estate and property portfolio is certainly a convincing example.

And Ellison is a good transition to the political and world historical. Alexander the Great wept because he had no more worlds to conquer. The first few conquests of any world beater (Tamar, Genghis Kahn, Napoleon) taste sweet indeed. But they must be followed by ever greater conquests to obtain the same thrill (anyone for invading Russia?)

It is the confluence of the law of diminishing returns with the bottomless well found in damaged individuals that invariably leads to the immiseration of  all who have the misfortune of being involved with them.  Narcissistic leaders can never feel a sense of inner well-being no matter how many millions cheer them.

The brain has a marvelous dampening mechanism that lets normal people know when they have reached a critical point on the curve of diminishing returns. We run out of neurotransmitters such as dopamine. A prudent person recognizes this condition and curtails or cuts back their efforts at obtaining pleasure until a new reservoir is built up. However, there are a considerable number of people who double and re-double their efforts (more drugs, faster & louder music…) in order not to experience the down that invariably comes when there is no more dopamine/adrenaline available.

A wise person acts carefully to shepherd their inner resources to delay reaching the critical point of diminishing returns. They eat at a two or three star restaurant most of the time and save the four star one for rare occasions. When I had the opportunity to take a gourmet tour of the French Rivera, by the second week I was so sick of the rich food that all I wanted to do was to walk into a dive and order the French equivalent of a burger and fries.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment