The U.S. and China

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Most think the relationship between the United States and China will be the most important issue of the 21st Century. Many think it already is. I am one of them

Sadly, when most Americans think about China today, if not the Coronavirus, what they think about is trade. But there is so much more to consider.

That is why I gravitated to a piece by Tom Friedman, “The World-Shaking News That You’re Missing.” Here is how he began:

One of the most negative byproducts of the Trump presidency is that all we talk about now is Donald Trump. Don’t get me wrong: How can we not be fixated on a president who daily undermines the twin pillars of our democracy: truth and trust?

But there are some tectonic changes underway behind the Trump noise machine that demand a serious national discussion, like the future of U.S.-China relations. Yet it’s not happening — because all we talk about is Donald Trump.

Consider this: On Nov. 9, European leaders gathered in Berlin to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was an anniversary worth celebrating. But no one seemed to notice that almost exactly 30 years after the Berlin Wall fell, a new wall — a digital Berlin Wall — had begun to be erected between China and America. And the only thing left to be determined, a Chinese business executive remarked to me, “is how high this wall will be,” and which countries will choose to be on which side.

This new wall, separating a U.S.-led technology and trade zone from a Chinese-led one, will have implications as vast as the wall bisecting Berlin did. Because the peace, prosperity and accelerations in technology and globalization that have so benefited the world over the past 40 years were due, in part, to the interweaving of the U.S. and Chinese economies.

You can read the full piece here

Role Models

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Caroll Spinney, who portrayed Big Bird on Sesame Street for decades, died late last year. But the lessons he shared on “Sesame Street” live on.

While many look to political figures, actors, rock stars and others for advice, Big Bird offers some great life lessons. Here is how an article about the Sesame Street star begins:

Who among us didn’t learn something from Caroll Spinney’s Big Bird over the years? Spinney, who for decades brought the Gentle Giant to life (and also Oscar the Grouch), died, but the lessons he shared live on with the millions of people who grew up watching “Sesame Street.”

Beyond alphabet recitals and numerical countdowns, everybody’s favorite feathered friend had valuable things to say to both children and grown-ups about the value of cooperation and the best ways to navigate complex emotions. Life can be tough, he told us, but it’s going to be all right. Here are a few of the tricky topics Big Bird broke down for viewers young and old.

  • Self-Confidence
  • Healthy Eating
  • Breastfeeding
  • Understanding Disability
  • Gaslighting
  • Competition
  • Dealing with Disaster
  • Fear
  • Death

Want more? You can read these nine ways here

Tech Rising?

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Last month, I blogged about technology and featured an article that asked the question, “Has Technology Peaked?

Piling on to that post, here are the most recent (February 11, 2020) from the Wall Street Journal of those companies with over a one trillion dollar valuation:

  • Microsoft: $1.44 trillion
  • Apple: $1.41 trillion
  • Amazon: $1.06 trillion
  • Alphabet: $1.04 trillion

Oh, and Facebook is the next-most highly valued company at $607 billion.

Has technology peaked? What do you think?

Forever War?

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It has been over a decade since New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins penned his best-seller, The Forever War.

As anticipated, the book raised important questions as to why the United States was still engaged in Afghanistan. Sadly, we are still there.

That is why I was drawn to a recent article: “Americans Demand a Rethinking of the ‘Forever War.’” Here is how it begins:

Nearly two decades after the fall of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon, American troops continue to wage war in Iraq, Afghanistan and lesser-known corners of the globe. President Trump almost opened another front last month when he approved the killing of Iran’s most powerful general.

“We took one of the world’s deadliest terrorists off the battlefield for good,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said recently, justifying the drone strike on Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.

In other words, in the “war on terror,” the Iranian leader was fair game.

Last week, Democrats and some Republicans in the House voted to repeal one of two longstanding war authorizations that have helped justify all manner of American military action abroad. It was a challenge not only to President Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran, but also to the thinking in Washington that has sustained the war-fighting since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

For more than 18 years, the war on terrorism — the “forever war” or “endless war,” as many call it — has been used as the basis for an ever-expanding range of military actions: an invasion of Iraq that, by one count, has left nearly 300,000 dead; airstrikes in Afghanistan that have sometimes unintentionally killed scores at wedding parties as well as Qaeda leaders; and now the Suleimani drone strike. Mr. Trump said the general, who had helped arm anti-American militias in the Iraq war, had been plotting new “imminent and sinister attacks.”

Want more? You can read the full article here

Social Animals

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While some may feel that they have world-class social skills, for most of us, we readily admit we can always use a bit of help sharpening our skills in dealing with others.

That is why I was drawn to a recent piece in the New York Times entitled: “An Adult’s Guide to Social Skills, for Those Who Were Never Taught.” Here is how it begins:

Unlike topics like math or science, social skills are more of a “learn on the job” kind of skill. When you’re a child, you can learn how to manage conflict, make friends and navigate groups by doing it. But not everyone learns the same lessons the same way. Sometimes, they take a whole lifetime to refine, and many of us never master them.

Learning social skills can be difficult if you weren’t exposed to traditional group dynamics as a child, if you struggle with a mental illness like anxiety or depression, or even if you just didn’t have a lot of positive role models when you were growing up. Young people tend to learn how to manage their own emotions, recognize those of other people and manage them both effectively by socializing. If these weren’t skills you developed growing up, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Publishing Tips

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Twenty years ago, the words “self-published” meant a writer had gone to a vanity press, paid a great deal of money, and gotten several boxes of books he or she never sold. Ten years ago, things were a little better a few self-published books were able to break through and find at least a modest market. Five years ago things changed dramatically and self-publishing, thanks in large part to Amazon, began to take off.

Today, the market is reaching new heights. In a New York Times Magazine article, “Meredith Wild, a Self-Publisher Making an Imprint,” the curtain is drawn upon on this booming market. As the article points out:

Ms. Wild’s path from becoming a self-publishing star to operating her own small imprint is the latest sign that independent authors are catching up to publishers in the sophistication of their marketing and the scope of their ambitions. Self-published authors can negotiate foreign-rights deals and produce audiobooks. A handful of the most successful independent writers sell print copies of their books in physical retail stores like Barnes & Noble, Walmart and Target, giving them access to a market that traditional publishers have long dominated.

Now enterprising authors like Ms. Wild are forming their own small publishing houses. Just like the old-guard editors and publishing companies that they once defined themselves against, these new imprints promise to anoint fledgling authors with legitimacy and give them an edge in a flooded and cutthroat marketplace.

It is a new era.

Want more? You can read the full article here

The Middle East

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During my thirty-year military career I deployed to the Middle East multiple times. My interest in the region intensified each time, and remains high today.

I always was a bit adrift as to why we were there. And while I would never suggest that Former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, is someone with a deep understanding of the region, I vividly recall something she said while she was a vice-presidential candidate. When asked if the United States should be involved in the region, she said, “Let Allah sort it out.”

Now, over a decade later, veteran U.S. diplomat, Martin Indyk, is raising that same question in a thoughtful way. Here is how he begins his piece, “The Middle East Isn’t Worth It Anymore:”

Last week, despite Donald Trump’s repeated pledge to end American involvement in the Middle East’s conflicts, the U.S. was on the brink of another war in the region, this time with Iran. If Iran’s retaliation for the Trump administration’s targeted killing of Tehran’s top commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, had resulted in the deaths of more Americans, Washington was, as Mr. Trump tweeted, “locked and loaded” for all-out confrontation.

Why does the Middle East always seem to suck the U.S. back in? What is it about this troubled region that leaves Washington perpetually caught between the desire to end U.S. military involvement there and the impulse to embark on yet another Middle East war?

As someone who has devoted four decades of his life to the study and practice of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East, I have been struck by America’s inability over the past two administrations to resolve this dilemma. Previously, presidents of both parties shared a broad understanding of U.S. interests in the region, including a consensus that those interests were vital to the country—worth putting American lives and resources on the line to forge peace and, when necessary, wage war.

Today, however, with U.S. troops still in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan and tensions high over Iran, Americans remain war-weary. Yet we seem incapable of mustering a consensus or pursuing a consistent policy in the Middle East. And there’s a good reason for that, one that’s been hard for many in the American foreign-policy establishment, including me, to accept: Few vital interests of the U.S. continue to be at stake in the Middle East. The challenge now, both politically and diplomatically, is to draw the necessary conclusions from that stark fact.

You can read the full article here

Roll With It

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While we mostly all do our best to remain healthy and deal with change, sometimes things overwhelm us.

That is why I was drawn to Jane Brody’s recent piece: When Life Throws You Curveballs, Embrace the ‘New Normal.’ Here is how she begins:

Just when I needed it most, I learned a valuable life lesson from Lynda Wolters, who has a cancer that is currently incurable, diagnosed just after her 49th birthday. As an Idaho farm girl used to hard work, Ms. Wolters led a healthy life, enjoying ballroom dancing, horseback riding, rafting and hiking when not at work at a law firm. Then, as she wrote in her recently published book, “Voices of Cancer”:

“Everything changes with cancer — everything. Life will never be the same again, even on the smallest of levels, something will be forever different. There is no going back to who you once were, so embrace it and grow from it and with it. Find the new you in your new space and make it wonderful.”

I’ve long been a stubbornly independent do-it-yourself person who rails against any infirmity that gets in the way of my usual activities. For jobs I think I should be able to do myself, I typically resist asking for help. But in reading this book, I finally understand the importance of accepting and adjusting to a “new normal” now that my aging, arthritic body rebels against activities I once did with ease. Like sweeping and bagging the leaves around my house, tending my garden, preparing a meal for company, hosting house guests, walking several miles, even visiting a museum for more than an hour.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

A World Without Work

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Full disclosure, I work at a U.S. government laboratory where we deal with high technology every day. I am enthralled by what technology can do to make the world a better place.

But I am also mindful of the dangers technology can pose and especially of the public’s fear of new technology, especially when it comes to taking our jobs.

That is why I was drawn to a recent book review ofA WORLD WITHOUT WORK
Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond.” Here is how it begins:

Fearing that a newfangled technology would put them out of work, neighbors broke into the house of James Hargreaves, the inventor of the spinning jenny, and destroyed the machine and also his furniture in 18th-century England. Queen Elizabeth I denied an English priest a patent for an invention that knitted wool, arguing that it would turn her subjects into unemployed beggars. A city council dictated that Anton Möller, who invented the ribbon loom in the 16th century, should be strangled for his efforts.

But centuries of predictions that machines would put humans out of work for good — a scenario that economists call “technological unemployment” — have always turned out to be wrong. Technology eliminated some jobs, but new work arose, and it was often less grueling or dangerous than the old. Machines may have replaced weavers, but yesterday’s would-be weavers are now working jobs their forefathers couldn’t have imagined, as marketing managers and computer programmers and fashion designers. Over the past few centuries, technology has helped human workers become more productive than ever, ushering in unprecedented economic prosperity and raising living standards. The American economy, for instance, grew 15,241-fold between 1700 and 2000.

 

Want more? You can read the full article here

Are We Ready?

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Most articles in the media that talk about the U.S. military focus on either on combat deaths (important reporting), family homecomings or major, high-tech weapons systems.

When the public hears about the military budget, the reporting usually focuses on major weapons systems: ships, fighter jets and the like.

That is why I found a recent article, “Trump Says the U.S. Is Ready for War. Not All His Troops Are So Sure,” so compelling. It focuses on readiness…and it paints a dire picture.

Here is a short excerpt:

If forced to fight in the Persian Gulf or the Korean Peninsula, the Navy and Marine Corps are likely to play crucial roles in holding strategic command of the sea and defending against ballistic missiles.

Those branches, though, do not need billions of dollars of new weapons, our examination revealed. They need to focus on the basics: their service members, their training and their equipment.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress’s watchdog, has been sounding the alarm for years, to little effect. In 2016, the G.A.O. found that years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan had taken their toll: “The military services have reported persistently low readiness levels.”

You can read the full article here