Let the Good Times Roll


But when people say,
Did you always want to be a writer?,
I have to say no!
I always was a writer

Ursula le Guin

When I ask people ‘So, what’s your image of a writer?’, usually they talk about a guy. Even the women I ask, they tend to talk about a man. I don’t comment as it ruins the experiment, but blogging about it here, I guess that’s the image that gets grandfathered into our brains in a male-centric culture when we are young and impressionable. But that’s not all. If you do an internet search for ‘writer images’, they are mostly male. Then, I ask ‘So what else comes to mind?’

They usually report their writer-image is a kind of intense tweedy type. They see him wearing a jacket with elbow patches, or with swept back greyflecked distinguished hair, writing at a desk. Oh, also our literary type is also usually an academic working on a university campus teaching literature, not working in a bar or stacking shelves in your local Tesco.

I don’t buy this description. Firstly, I know as many women as men who are writers. Also my image of a writer is not so high profile. Maybe she’s out of shape from poor diet and zero exercise. Maybe my imaginary writer drinks too much and is stressed out from all the hours hunched in front of a computer working with little return. Maybe some of my imaginary writers are loners, starving and depressed in a windy garret tapping out another tome, perhaps. Or, addicted, perhaps heavily so.

Another writerly image that crops up is that of the performing artist. If you attend open mics or literary evenings, (which can be really good if you get good writers onstage), your image is of a writer is one standing up in front of a audience of forty or fifty in some back room of a bar or club performing.

Then we come to images of the mature and accomplished artists, also and very importantly, they are being paid for what they do. They have published well. Good times. Every artist worth their salt deserves this. But does that happen? Does every accomplished artist who produces good work get paid what they deserve? Of course not, and for a reason. I mean we think of art in terms of every other item produced in society. It is generally held that the laws of supply and demand determine quality. In other words, if you are a crappy writer, people won’t read you or publish you and thus, in true Darwinian mode, you get cut from the herd and become an editor. If you are hot (in the sense of being modern and contemporary and zeitgeisty and talented), then talent will out. Right? Well, I don’t think so. A twenty or thirty minute perusal of the quality of writing in a typical bookstore or library anywhere, will quash any such ideals. The rules of market economics do not apply when it comes to art, as opposed to in life.

So I moved from bookstores to the internet in my search for an answer to the

le guin

question of what happens to literary talent. I read forums and Wikipedia and blogposts and in the end just for giggles I did a random google search for ‘literary rejection letters’, and one of the first that popped out was a letter Ursula K le Guin got back in ’68. Here it is:

Ursula K Le guin rejection letter

Now I am a fan of this writer. This particular novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, which found a home elsewhere, is now regarded as a masterpiece, a trailblazer of feminist writing, a work which made a real contribution to the SF genre. It wound up winning the Nebula award, selling over a million copies and establishing Le Guin’s reputation. Reading this letter, and a few others, as well as considering the cloud of negativity surrounding writers beginning and trying to develop their careers, at this stage I confess I began to think a bit negatively about the struggles of newbie writers.

By this I mean – consider if Le Guin had given up with her novel after such a rejection. left hand darknessImagine if she decided instead to quit and run a pub in Lesser Chipping Buckworth (no such place), or took to the countryside in married dejection. Consider all the people she inspired, all the changes she wrought to peoples minds and hearts. I mean, we are talking here of a serious loss. But it didn’t happen, which is good news. On the contrary, millions of people are glad she went on and became the icon of SF writing she remained her entire life, and thereafter.


My point is, its easier, so far easier if we had a society that valued and nurtured new writers and artists instead of regarding them as dropouts or lazy or damaged dreamers, people who do not ‘pull their weight’. Having a really good writer in the family should be seen as like having a doctor or a politician or a business person in the family. How many aspiring writers have had to face the ire and disapproval of families and friends and the weight of societal judgement because they wanted to do something creative with their lives? The effects of such disapproval can be overwhelming.

Take disapproval. I mean, its such an innocuous sounding word, ‘disapproval’.  It whips up images of ones sainted great aunt clattering teacups and shaking her head as she tut tuts ones use of bad language or smoking weed out the back garden. This is different, though. Here I mean the kind of life altering cultural disapproval which though all pervasive, can be rather hard to pin down. Its the disapproval you get when turning up in church drunk or your mobile phone going off during a production of Hamlet, except much, much worse.  This is how one gets cut from the herd. You know they don’t want you yet you don’t know how you know that, or indeed what to do. For writers, type of disapproval can last a lifetime. It leads to deep self doubt. That in turn leads to a negative self image, which leads to depression which leads to self destructive behaviours. This is where the trouble starts. Self destructive behaviours borne of depression and self doubt are very painful indeed. Depression has certainly a marked chemical or genetic component, but it also has a societal aspect, a marked societal aspect. Our pain is framed by our world. If this pain goes on long enough, it naturally leads to one seeking relief. I’m talking here medicating such pain with drugs and alcohol. Too much medicating psychic pain with D. and A. often (not always though) leads to addiction. After that there’s nowhere to go but down. It can start a negative toxic spiral downwards into the kinds of dark places I have seen the finest talents dissolve.

So to go back to Le Guin for a moment. Ursula Le Guin getting those Novels published, especially The Left Hand of Darkness, was good for her and good for us all on levels we can begin to fathom anew. She had a brilliant career, and that brilliance shone long after she left us. In contrast I think here of other writers and artists who needed to get the good news of acceptance, not simply a publishing deal but the good word from society at large that what they were doing had value, yet didn’t. Their story did not end with good news. It was sad, bad news.

So we here not talking about simply giving our writers an encouraging hug. This is more like a ideological endorsement of the profound value of our creative communities, a value that includes a monetary value (sometimes very substantial) but an educational, political, and entertainment value. Books and art itself start conversations that change things, sometimes forever. Wherever we see repression of art we see the beginnings of a repressive society that kills the spirit of humanity and produces only propaganda and junk thinking. I am thinking of Donald Trumps killing off major arts grants at the beginning of his benighted presidency.

But here in Ireland the government, the Arts Council, and the Irish Writers Centre have a new initiative for established writers, whereby they can access social welfare payments and don’t have to hide the fact they are writers, or any other types of subterfuge. The full text of the pilot initiative is here. Its been taken up and established now a year later.
Now there are a few problems with this initiative. For instance the text states one has to be ‘genuinely seeking work’ in order to avail of the scheme. Does this mean the work of being a writer is not genuine work? What if you need something like the dole to finish a work that is of the quality of The Left hand of Darkness? Are we seeing shades of the old prejudice against the struggling writer, seen as a kind of layabout who will eventually shape up and see that real work lies elsewhere? Its one of those subtle indicators that might be worth looking at down the line.

Another problem with this otherwise laudatory scheme which is far sighted and worthy of promotion is the very questionable criterion of having to demonstrate that you earned half of last years income from writing. I doubt if there are many writers who need the dole to finish their books will be able to show that. In fact in Ireland unless you work round the clock doing gigs and writers in residence contracts as well as whatever royalties you earn will be able to demonstrate that level of income.
But those caveats aside, its good news. Its a sign, as the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar said:
“Ireland is world-famous as a haven for art and artists who are central to our culture. This reputation for artistic achievement is part of our global USP. Promoting Ireland as a home for art and artists is central to my plans to double our global footprint in the years ahead. I believe it is only right that we allow for some flexibility within the social welfare system to allow artists to access social welfare supports when they need them. Up to now, artists have found it difficult to access social welfare and of course many artists take on extra jobs to support their livelihoods.

“Following extensive work between both Departments, with input from the Arts Council, this new mechanism will allow artists to be classified as self-employed for the purposes of accessing social welfare supports. The normal checks and balances will apply to ensure the initiative is not open to abuse, but my hope is that this will make it much easier for professional artists to access social welfare supports when they need them.”

(See here for further context) There is information on the scheme here and further information here.



(Or ‘Hitman’)


Denis Villeneuve


Taylor Sheridan

An idealistic FBI agent (Blunt) is enlisted by an elected government task force (Brolin, Del Toro) to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.

*Please note: The storyline is discussed form here on in*


This movie is disturbing. Its incredibly visceral and describes the true nature of the war on drugs. It makes clear how there is absolutely no way the so called ‘War on Drugs’ can ever be won, namely it is too profitable . Theres that, and the fact that people take drugs, lots of drugs. Some become hopelessly addicted. Others do not. But people will never stop taking drugs. Josh Brolin’s rather unsavoury CIA character laments how one fifth of the US population at one time or another are consuming drugs, with no indication of ever stopping.

Its also a business. The drug business is a high yield low investment business with high mobility and an infinite demand. With such a unimaginable profit margins the providers of such illicit drugs as Heroin, Cocaine, Crystal Meth, and so on, can continue to operate no matter how many times the drug leaders get arrested or shot or disappeared. If you are a drug trader and you make a mistake, you are killed. Someone more skilled will replace you, until they are killed. And so on with a kind of Darwinian inevitability. Their already labyrinthine business operations are highly portable. And due to decades of experience and connections, they know how to shut down shop and start elsewhere very quickly indeed. They know how to hide in plain sight (and people will, for instance, hide their local dealer mainly because, well, they like drugs and they might be killed if they tell the police). So vast are drug operations they could be floated as a huge multinational Corporations on the Dow Jones or the NasDaq (An estimated 1% of total global trade is in illegal drugs).

The global reach of drug traders is legendary. The fight for global dominance in this trade is reminiscent of Game of Thrones. Shut one down and others will start up again with the full knowledge that they or others like them can at any time find willing accomplices with sufficiently highly developed skill sets to continue to operate a business that has always and forever and unto the end of time a viable highly motivated market, an unlimited number of recruits that will ones bidding to be paid such monies, and the possibility of unlimited expansion so long as you are willing to stop all opposition. In the movie one of the purposes of the ‘raid’ the CIA conducts into Mexico is to actually ensure that the is only one new drug lord in the area. To have more than one drug king is to risk a horrific cycle of slaughter. Its interesting that the notion of eliminating the drug trade in the poverty stricken areas they flourish in doesn’t even enter the picture.

So, in Sciario, a revenge raid is conducted by US authorities into Mexico in order to neutralize a brutal drug lord and stop all opposition and install a new Columbian based drug lord. I use the word ‘stop’ in the last sentence rather euphemistically. This means levels of violence and horror that would fill our nightmares forever. The drug business, since it is illegal and unmonitored and free of taxes and government control despite the best efforts of the most powerful intelligence agencies in the world, continually learns from its mistakes, refines its technologies, bribes the highest and most influential members of whatever governments they operate in, do deals with literally anyone, and continually find ways to launder their cash in ever more imaginative ways. As their market never goes away, they, like the proverbial Gorgon, keeps growing new heads. The sociology and economics of drug addiction, its areas of production and the socio-economic poverty visible in such regions, are all the subject of fierce debate. The history of prohibition shows how profitable for criminals and how disastrous the idea of making illegal drugs that are commonly consumed. Considering that alcohol-like cigarettes, are far more dangerous than many of the banned drugs, it all seems more and more peculiar, as if making either of those drugs illegal would stop us consuming them. One thing is clear. People take drugs and always will. Keeping it illegal lines the pockets of the worst people imaginable. Addiction can be treated, but not with prohibition, and far more lives are destroyed by incarceration than the drugs they are being incarcerated for.


Speaking of truly bad people, in  Sciario, Benedicio Del Toro plays probably the worst person imaginable. The worst person imaginable is the man (in this case, a man- named Alejandro played by Del Toro) who has had everything taken from him and has become poisoned by hatred and the desire for revenge. He becomes as evil as those who has hurt him. He is entirely washed of all humanity, and while he remains intelligent and perceptive and knowledgeable and able to operate seemingly normally, there is literally nothing of which he is incapable. Del Toro’s character, Alejandro, is a drug cartel operator whose wife was decapitated and daughter was thrown into an acid bath by a rival cartel members gang, is taken on by the CIA to be the hit man for an operation into Mexico in order to send an unforgettable message of revenge to the Mexican Drug Cartel who had recently kidnapped and horribly murdered twenty people and blew up two police officers. They go into Mexico and as Josh Brolin’s character says, they ‘wildly overreact’. They also murder and torture with impunity, use police officers as live bait for corrupt cops, beat corrupt police officer to a pulp for information, execute other corrupt cops without trial, kill just about anyone who gets in their way with ruthless highly skilled efficiency, murder unarmed civilians including women and children, and break so many international laws one simply loses count. Naturally about half way through this lengthy and breathtakingly paced thriller, its impossible to tell who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. Like all good revenge stories, the futility of revenge and the endlessly upward mobility of degrees of horror is ably demonstrated in a movie that’s brilliantly and horrifyingly written and paced, that’s beautifully and rawly shot, and wonderfully and convincingly acted, and a message that’s by no means forced down the throat of the viewer. Some who watch this no doubt would see the cops as the good guys and the criminals as bad and that sometimes one has to do terrible things to do good. The film, being an excellent one, takes a sympathetic approach to both sides.

But Sciario is not just about drugs. Its about death. About how war breeds killers and killers breed death, and death breeds more death and the cycle of horror, the horror of war, goes on through the cycle of hatred and revenge and atrocity. Dead bodies hang everywhere, torture is everywhere. Emily Blunts character, with young swan like frail innocent idealism, is horribly violated and we see the death of innocence at the hands of the monstrous Alejandro, for whom in true Shakespearean fashion, we feel a level of sympathy for despite his crimes, and we realize somewhere along the line the madness began when this insane war on drugs was first declared.

*Sorry about the over-dramatised footage above. It was the only one I could find with Nixon’s famous Declaration of war on Drugs.*



Drugs Are Bad

I am a rather hairy chap. I have big head, a big nose and have worn a beard all my life now. I also have long hair and, yes, I should take greater care of my appearance. But then I don’t think too often about how I look. I also have something of a sleepy look in my eyes, something I have noticed on looking at photographs of myself. To the untrained eye I would look like a regular drug user, which I was – but all of them prescribed by a trained medical practitioner until I stopped using them and consequently felt immensely better – but more of that later.

So when I use the phrase ‘regular drug user’, I am of course referring to non pharmaceutical drugs, drugs supplied by criminals, which I never use and know nothing whatever about. I do know a bit about the other kinds of drugs, drugs we all use:- cigarettes, tobacco, alcohol, aspirin, paracetamol, caffeine, chocolate, coca cola, and the hundreds of other mind altering substances we consume casually every day.

Coca Cola, used to clean blood off crime scenes, with a billion cans  day consumed, is really, really bad for you. (I succumb to a can or two when I get Chinese take out)

Check this out:

Coca Cola – open happiness….
sorry I couldn’t properly source above – apologies to the creator/s of very interesting meme poster*

Ok, forget about Coca Cola and paracetamol and such like. Try chocolate. I like Chocolate. Chocolate is sold to billions of children and adults all day every day worldwide. Chocolate contains small amounts of anandamide. Anandamide is an endogenous cannabanoid receptor in the brain. It gets you a tad high.That’s what gives one that happy sleepy gentle euphoric feeling that chocolate effects on the brain and body. So we get just a little stoned every time we have a Milk Tray or a Snickers. Chocolate also contains a substance called Phenylethylamine. This releases dopamine in the mesolimbic pleasure-centres. Phenylethylamine peaks during orgasm. So we are giving our kids a cannabis activating aphrodisiac for good behaviour, or as a treat.I know it sounds a little odd the way I have just written that, but not untrue. Shouldn’t chocolate bars carry a warning of sorts?

I remember a disturbing experience coming through customs in JFK airport around 2009 or so. I remember being stopped by two incredibly obnoxious NY cops and being questioned as to who I was and what my business was coming upon the virgin soil of the USA. I said I was a writer flying over to do readings and launch a book. Again they looked at me, looked at each other and, using their height and their voices (I am 5 foot 8 inches) made it unequivocally clear that they didn’t believe me. Trapped as I was in the devils bind of trying to prove a negative – i.e. that I was not whatever they thought I was, I became somewhat stroppy and told them to go Google me. They did, and thankfully there were a few photos of me online, as well as the very odd biography. So they let me through. I even remember they yelled at me to ‘keep moving buddy’ after I stopped to laugh nervously and breathe a sigh of relief after they did let me through. Perhaps they were annoyed that someone who looked like me would not be arrestable material. Prejudice is an odd thing.

Another moment of prejudice happened just yesterday. I have a rather sensitive constitution and have to be careful what I eat and drink. I abstain from beers and spirits and prefer usually to drink one type of wine. Having drunk one, I know- just one glass of wine from a brand away from my usual drink – a smooth cherry blend of Cabernet called Cotes du Rousillion de Villages, I woke up yesterday morning with a bad hangover, one that grew steadily worse. Aside from a blinding headache and the feeling of sawdust in my tummy, my muscles ached. I decided radical action was necessary. I went to the chemist and asked for some – yes – you guessed it – Solpadeine.

Exhibit A

And I was subjected to an interrogation by the post pubescent assistant behind the counter. She maintained a steady friendly gaze, as she was trained to do and didn’t raise her voice as she was trained to do. But she had a job to do –  and she had the steely determination of a DEA agent as she persevered in her line of questioning. She wanted to know what I wanted it for. The drugs. I said I was hung over  Very ill. Rarely take the stuff. I was of a sensitive constitution.

She suggested Paracetemol. Dioralite. Or Panadol Actifast?

Or plain old Aspirin?

No I said. I wanted the good stuff. I wanted Solpadeine. I was quite ill and it was getting worse. I was badly hung over on one glass of wine. I was too ill to even sleep off the hangover. This drug would work. Now I was told I was only allowed take it for three days. For the tenth time I was told that Solpadeine contained codeine. That was addictive. Did I know codeine was addictive? I nodded sagely. I said I had a hangover I was only going to take two. Maybe four in any twenty four hour period. This didn’t satisfy my politically correct chemist’s assistant. She again pressed me to try anything except Solpadeine. I mentioned that I had gone into a chemist, not gone to some street corner looking for codeine, and by the beard of Odin, I had a mighty hangover. That was all. I must confess being furious as well as being hung over after I left that chemist, swearing never to return.


Wine on the left (made me ill) Wine on the right (no ill effects)

Caffeine, which is the worlds most commonly consumed psychoactive compound, is also in sweets, soft drinks, pills, and in Solpadeine, which by the way worked wonders on my horrible hangover. Along with a few of those wonderful soluble analgesics, I had a few cups of black coffee. Coffee contains Caffeine. Caffeine stops the uptake of a substance called Adenosine. Adenosine is that molecule which binds to Adenosine receptors in the neurons which slows down the brains signalling facility. Actually caffeine and Adenosine kinda look like each other. Caffeine binds to Adenosine and is known in the trade as an Adenosine antagonist. It keeps you from getting drowsy and is probably the reason why its always available in offices as it keeps people pepped up. The problem is that this is not a good idea for the body. If you keep caffeinating (as we all to a greater or lesser degree do) it causes another important organ in the body to kick in, the Adrenal Gland – which releases adrenaline, which puts the body in a fight or flight mode. One begins to live on ones nerves, food isn’t properly digested, one feels tired quickly after consuming coffee, which leads one to drink more of the stuff, which causes improper sleep, digestion issues, mood disorders, poor sleep, poor levels of concentration, and something of a breakdown in general health and well being over a longer term. And yet coffee does not come with a warning either, does it? Its a completely unregulated psychoactive drug consumed by billions.

And then there are, well, drugs. The drugs you take every day, drugs I take every day. Drugs we really need. I mean we all would have died probably without really important drugs that have at one time or another saved our lives. No question. But then the drug industry is a multi billion multinational worldwide concern. These are the other drugs I am talking about. Drugs with labels and lists and lists of side effects. We are being massively over-prescribed. Look at the labels. May cause drowsiness. May cause memory loss. May cause osteoporosis, heart attack, chronic fatigue. Its actually scary to read the fine print. I can go a little further on this whole issue around prescribed medication. You have a one in five chance of getting seriously ill from any new drug that comes online. It’s far, far better to wait five years before trying out a new drug. Why? Because it hasn’t really been tried out on humans. They test them out on animals. But then, non human animals just aren’t like human animals. At all.

“Few know that systematic reviews of hospital charts found that even properly prescribed drugs (aside from misprescribing, overdosing, or self-prescribing) cause about 1.9 million hospitalizations a year. Another 840,000 hospitalized patients are given drugs that cause serious adverse reactions for a total of 2.74 million serious adverse drug reactions. About 128,000 people die from drugs prescribed to them. ” ( June 27, 2014 by Donald W. Light Edmund J Safra Centre for ethics seehttp://ethics.harvard.edu/blog/new-prescription-drugs-major-health-risk-few-offsetting-advantages )

But illegal drugs don’t have these kinds of adverse reactions. 28,000 die per anum from drug related deaths in the USA for instance. In ireland last year (2014) 4,600 died from drug overdoses. And yet nobody ever mentions the 1.9 million hospitalizations and the 128,000 deaths from drugs prescribed to people by medical professionals. The CDC estimates 88,000 deaths from alcohol and a staggering 2.5 million years taken off peoples lives as a result of alcohol consumption. In ireland we lose about 88 people per month from alcohol. Again alcohol is pretty freely available.

And then there is Professor David Nutt. Sad rain-coated hairy nerds like me have heard of him, which may or may not be a good thing. But he is a truly interesting thoughtful chap who did a lot of work on the psycho-pharmacology of drugs, their effects on the brain, the dynamics of neurotransmitters, and the dangers of drug use. In 2007 he published a rather controversial study on the harms of drug use in The Lancet.[12] This led to his dismissal from his position in the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). Subsequently, Nutt and a number of his colleagues who had subsequently resigned from the ACMD founded the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. (see wiki Article on David Nutt)

So, anyway, about this article on the levels of dangers and ill effects of drug use published in the Lancet in 2007. The weighting of each drug’s dangers is an important consideration before I actually give the results. If a drug, call it drug A – has a weighing of 10, it is therefore half as dangerous as, say Drug B, which has a weighing of 20, and so on. The maximum weighing is 100 and the minimum is 0, which means no ill effects at all.

“Overall, MCDA modelling showed alcohol was the most harmful drug (overall harm score 72), with heroin (55) and crack (54) in second and third places. Heroin, crack, and crystal meth were the most harmful drugs to the individual, whereas alcohol, heroin, and crack were the most harmful to others. The other drugs assessed followed in this order in terms of overall harm: Crystal meth (33), cocaine (27), tobacco (26), amphetamine/speed (23), cannabis (20), GHB (18), benzodiazepines (eg valium) (15), ketamine (also 15), methadone (14), mephedrone (13), butane (10), khat (9), ecstacy (9), anabolic steroids (9), LSD (7), buprenorphine (6), mushrooms (5).”

Taken from http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_1-11-2010-15-43-18

And this cost Dr. Nutt his job. He got a phone call saying he was no longer on the Blair Government Advisory Board. And the rest is history. I would imagine that someone in the position Nutt held back in 2007, publishing a report saying alcohol is more dangerous than heroin or crack cocaine, would cause something of a ripple amidst industry professionals.

Lets just say that our views on drugs their uses and misuses are somewhat driven by a cocktail of propaganda, hard information, misperception, ill informed discussion, and most of all, television. We see drugs as that thing taken by our kids who have disappointed us, or died from overdoses, drugs peddled by the Pablo Escobars of this world, the types of people hunted down by trusty DEA agents. We don’t see them as pushed by massive corporations on to doctors and hospitals and psychiatrists, drugs taken by mom and pop just to get through another suburban day, prescribed by their GP, and slowly ruining their livers and their mental acuity. It just couldn’t be like that. The reality of things are rarely simple, straightforward, and rarely have the kinds of answers that give us comfort. But then, who wants to live that comfortably?

There’s something terribly wrong with Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is a television show that has won basically every award worth winning and every accolade worth giving and been subject to the most minute scrutiny by television critics, writers, psychologists, addiction experts, and dramatists ever since the show first aired back in 2008. It has more than simply caused a sensation. It is actually regarded as probably one of the greatest shows ever to air on television.Its premise is beyond horrible. It charts the demise of its main character, Walter White, an overqualified and deeply frustrated high school chemistry teacher, into one of the kingpins of the Crystal Meth drug distribution networks around Albuquerque New Mexico, home of the vicious brutal cartels that supply the USA. Walter White aka ‘Heisenberg’ is what’s known as a ‘cook’. In other words he turns his skills as an exceptionally gifted chemist into making the finest Crystal Meth either a pusher or a user can buy.

Discovering he has only two years to live with incurable lung cancer, stage 3A, which means it has moved to the lymph nodes, White turns to drug manufacture to ventilate his rage and frustration at his mediocre lot in life. He is 50, frustrated and underachieving in life. He has a surprise new baby on the way and has a son whom he loves deeply with Cerebral Palsy. White earns $46k  p.a. in his teaching job. He also has to supplement his income working at a car wash, run by Bogdon, a deeply unpleasant bullying boss.

As if things cant get worse, we have the question of Walters personality. Walt is not a wise humble balanced guy who, discovering his illness, realizes that despite the fact he is going to die that he has a loving wife and family. He is a bitter frustrated resentful man. He has wasted his mind. Moreover he feels cheated by his best friend, Eliot and Gretchen Schwartz. Decades before he and his friend Eliot Schwartz were once in a small chemical start up company called Gray Matter. Gretchen was Walt’s Girlfriend, but she left him for Eliot. Walt, devastated, sold his share in the company that he had contributed so brilliantly to for a pittance – $5k. (To get an idea of how brilliant Walter White is,on his wall approximately 5 minutes into Episode 1, Season 1, we see Walter White is a recipient of the Nobel prize). Twenty years later Eliot and Gretchen are married, and Gray Matter is worth $2 billion. Much of that had to do with Walters contributions and breakthroughs. White is bitterly resentful of this and checks how Gray matter is doing each week in the news business sections.

He refuses Eliot Schwartz’s offer of payment for chemotherapy and, along with a former high school pupil of his, the delinquent very unreliable addicted child of respectable middle class parents, Jesse Pinkman, begins to cook Meth. Soon because of his extraordinary talents as a chemist, he begins to make the finest Crystal Meth either the local DEA or indeed the local mehthead population has ever seen. Walter is also a gifted and ruthless businessman, dispatching opposition and killing those who threaten him with skill, and a cold remorselessness that grows increasingly disturbing as one watches. This of course is not the story of some everyman. Walter White is no everyman. He is brilliant, egotistical, ruthless, logical, and a killer right down to the soles of his shoes. And he makes the finest meth in New Mexico. Thought his might be an attempt to describe the capacities we all might have in us to be evil, and perhaps if we had Walt’s ego and abilities, had had been slighted and disappointed in life as Walter White had been, perhaps, just perhaps we might find ourselves in not dissimilar circumstances. For the most part though Breaking Bad is so far fetched to be surreal, and yet its surreality lends itself to the fascination of the story of the high school teacher who goes to the dark side. The sheer alien territory of the New Mexico landscapes also helps, the endless stretches of desert, the murderous drug gangs decimating one another for the easy hyper profits available for drugs that because they have been prohibited have become the purview of criminals. This, along with a slow steady build-up to one of the most anticipated and horrifying endings to a series ever, lends one to ask the question what is this show about?

Money? Well, in a word, no. Walter makes vast sums of money. But he enjoys the power and the challenge of eluding detection more than money. Breaking Bad is not about morality either. Its about amorality. Its about the lunacy of prohibition that has never worked and will never work. Its about vast sums of money, unbelievable amounts, that bring power into the hands of very very bad people. Its about the thin patina of civilization and conventionality that covers over our human capacity for greed, murder and revenge. It is a vicious satire of capitalism and market economy gone mad. Everyone is destroyed by Walter Whites monumental desire for power and revenge and in many ways he is part of another economy, the drug economy, with its supply chains and its accountants and economists and entrepreneurs. The problem with Walter is that he disrupts everything. He inevitably finds a way to completely wreck every well crafted operation he finds himself in because he is driven by this desire to get to the top. Planes Fall from the Sky. Children are poisoned. Lovers are allowed to choke to death. Prisoners are executed in their cells. Drug Bosses get their heads blown half off. He doesn’t care. After all he is going to be dead soon. All Walt wants is the ultimate revenge. He wants to be king. As Walter says to Skyler his wife: “I am not in danger. I am the danger.”

What is horrifying is not the carnage that goes on in the drug world. We are used to that. What’s horrible and funny and fascinating about Breaking Bad is how Walter White, apparently the nicest of men, could be so much worse than any of them.