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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Viva Stockholm!

     It’s been a busy month at work and home lately, hence, it’s been four weeks since my last posting. However, despite my neglect, my blog did hit a milestone last week, having reached its 2000th hit.  I’ve been flying around a bit including visiting Stockholm, one of my most favorite cities and Las Vegas one of my least. What I like most about Stockholm are the Swedish people: direct but friendly, outspoken but honest. And a bit of a puzzle as well. Here they are, the poster child for European socialism and yet their economy is booming along just fine.
     While at dinner a few nights ago a native Swede explained to me how their safety net worked. If a woman has a baby, she and the father get a total 500 or 600 days paid leave. To encourage fatherly involvement, a minimum 50 of those days has to be used by the man. Since there are only 5 working days in a week, 500 days paid leave would amount to 100 weeks paid vacation. The man and woman could split the days equally if they wanted. On top of that all education is free up through college. Also, there is universal medical coverage for everyone in the country, not just citizens. What else? Unemployment benefits aren’t a lot, maybe $2,000 per month. But it lasts until you find a job. The Swedish people sustain all this through pretty heavy taxation – perhaps over 50% for most taxpayers. The people I learned this from all agreed that the system works because Swedish people are socialists at heart. They don’t believe individuals should be able to amass great wealth, plus they work hard and have a culture that discourages welfare fraud.
     Las Vegas, on the other hand, is the city I joke is dedicated to people who flunked math in high school. The morning I left the Aria, a magnificent 4000 room hotel, I had to walk through a bustling casino at 6:30 a.m. Yes, that’s right, roulette wheels spinning, black jack tables and craps tables full. The party never ends. I guess the economy must be picking up. The one positive thing I can say is that Las Vegas can teach the world a thing or two about customer service. The hotel staff was impeccably trained. Also, saw a few shows, including David Copperfield, who, I am convinced, would have been burned at the stake if he’d been born 400 years earlier.
    During my travels, I found time to read a few books including two by Olen Steinhauer, i.e., 36 Yalta Boulevard  and Olen’s latest, American Spy.  Wow, that man can write. Just like fellow thriller writer Martin Cruz Smith, Olen manages to weave an extremely complex and rich story, seemingly effortlessly, slipping in details and descriptions as part of the plot and action. This is a gift and extremely difficult to master. Most writers stop the action in the book to describe the scene or a person. Steinhauer keeps pushing the action and dialogue while weaving his clear, vivid descriptions. For example, rather than pausing to describe a person directly by saying something like, “the man had a double chin,’ he will instead write, “The man pulled at his double-chin,” or “the shattered window reminded Milo of the pieces of his life he’d left behind.” This sounds easy to do when it’s only for a sentence or two, but try doing it for an entire book and for practically every description. It’s an art, and the effect is to keep the plot moving relentlessly.

     My next posting will be from New Zealand as my wife and I are traveling there to visit my beloved step-daughter and her husband. It will be our first visit there. Should be an experience.

All the best,


Zurich, Switzerland

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