Future News

earth-from-space

Occasionally, it’s worth looking back to see how people thought things would turn out.

Years ago I read a piece, “Novelists Predict Future With Eerie Accuracy.”

Fast forward: Were they right? See for yourself. Here is part of the article

The dirty little secret of speculative fiction is that it’s hard to go wrong predicting that things will get worse. But while avoiding the nihilism of novels like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” in which a father and son wander a hopeless post-apocalyptic moonscape, a number of recent books foresee futures that seem more than plausible as the nation’s ambient level of weirdness rises.

Albert Brooks, the actor and director, brought out “2030,” in which the nation’s economy is sent into a spin by seemingly good news: cancer is cured. The bad-news twist: the resulting drain on national resources by an aging population that no longer conforms to the actuarial tables and continues to consume resources at baby-boomer rates, and a rather literal twist on the notion of intergenerational warfare. “I chose not to go too far,” Mr. Brooks said. “I liked having more present in my future.”

In “Ready Player One,” the novelist Ernest Cline extrapolates from the ripples that rising energy prices and climate change send through the economy, and gives us a future where the suburbs die off and many people are packed into in high-rise urban trailer parks, spending their days on an increasingly addictive Internet instead of facing the quotidian squalor. Readers who spend so much time issuing updates via Twitter, Facebook and Google+ that they have forgotten what their spouses look like might see themselves reflected in Mr. Cline’s funhouse mirror. “I did try to envision it as a possible future,” Mr. Cline said. “I don’t see it as a future we’re necessarily headed for.”

Want to know what’s ahead – keep reading!

Want more? You can read the full article here

Where the Troops Are

21dc-military-superJumbo

The American troop pullback in Syria has dominated news headlines for the past several weeks. Lost in the news reporting – until now – has been where else U.S. troops are stationed overseas.

As part of its reporting, the New York Times provided these statistics, showing that the United States has 200,000 American service members serving overseas. Here is where:

  • Afghanistan: 13,000
  • Syria: 200
  • Iraq: 6,000
  • Saudi Arabian and other Persian Gulf nations: 65,000
  • Africa: 7,000
  • Japan: 50,000
  • South Korea: 28,000
  • NATO Nations: 35,000
  • Elsewhere: 2,000

This worldwide footprint requires substantial support from the continental United States, where an endless stream of supplies is moved forward to support these troops.

You can read the full article here

Capitalism = Good?

14benioff-superJumbo

Many people are conflicted regarding capitalism. We associate the word with “big business.” And while most agree that capitalism has delivered many benefits, sparking world-changing events such as the industrial and computer revolutions, capitalism’s dark side – a single-minded focus on increasing shareholder value – is increasingly revealed in the media.

That’s why it was so refreshing to read a proposal for a “New Capitalism” by Marc Benioff, Chairman of Salesforce, one of the world’s leading tech companies. Here’s how he began:

Capitalism, I acknowledge, has been good to me.

Over the past 20 years, the company that I co-founded, Salesforce, has generated billions in profits and made me a very wealthy person. I have been fortunate to live a life beyond the wildest imaginations of my great-grandfather, who immigrated to San Francisco from Kiev in the late 1800s.

Yet, as a capitalist, I believe it’s time to say out loud what we all know to be true: Capitalism, as we know it, is dead.

Yes, free markets — and societies that cherish scientific research and innovation — have pioneered new industries, discovered cures that have saved millions from disease and unleashed prosperity that has lifted billions of people out of poverty. On a personal level, the success that I’ve achieved has allowed me to embrace philanthropy and invest in improving local public schools and reducing homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area, advancing children’s health care and protecting our oceans.

But capitalism as it has been practiced in recent decades — with its obsession on maximizing profits for shareholders — has also led to horrifying inequality. Globally, the 26 richest people in the world now have as much wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people, and the relentless spewing of carbon emissions is pushing the planet toward catastrophic climate change. In the United States, income inequality has reached its highest level in at least 50 years, with the top 0.1 percent — people like me — owning roughly 20 percent of the wealth while many Americans cannot afford to pay for a $400 emergency. It’s no wonder that support for capitalism has dropped, especially among young people.

To my fellow business leaders and billionaires, I say that we can no longer wash our hands of our responsibility for what people do with our products. Yes, profits are important, but so is society. And if our quest for greater profits leaves our world worse off than before, all we will have taught our children is the power of greed.

It’s time for a new capitalism — a more fair, equal and sustainable capitalism that actually works for everyone and where businesses, including tech companies, don’t just take from society but truly give back and have a positive impact.

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

Ten Characters

22BackPage-Manguel-slide-VNO8-superJumbo

Most would agree that years after you read a novel, it’s not the plot that sticks with you, it’s the characters.

I’ve always been a plot-driven writer, so I recognize that I need to work on my characterization a bit harder than most.

That’s why I was drawn to Alberto Manguel’s piece, “In Art and Words, a Book Lover Honors the Characters He Can’t Forget.”

He has a pithy description of ten characters we all remember from great novels. Here is the first:

DRACULA

Apostle of blood, lord of night, invader of sleep — Count Dracula cannot die. He returns again and again, aided by Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer. In our bleak age, Dracula has become a necessary monster.

Want more about the other nine? You can read the rest of the piece here

Hong Kong Under Siege

merlin_161891397_3c617688-d38e-4e4b-addb-1e9fa6bac82f-superJumbo

Many were shocked by the brutal way that authorities put down – and are still putting down – the protests in Hong Kong.

But many others were not. Li Yuan is one of them. Here is how he began his recent piece, “One Country, No Arguments.”

Hong Kong’s protests have disrupted Yang Yang’s family life. Though the 29-year-old lives in mainland China, he was inspired by the demonstrations to write a song about freedom and upload it to the internet. When censors deleted it, he complained to his family.

They weren’t sympathetic. “How can you support Hong Kong separatists?” they asked. “How can you be anti-China?” His mother threatened to disown him. Before Mr. Yang left on a trip to Japan in August, his father said he hoped his son would die there.

Hong Kong’s protests have inflamed tensions in the semiautonomous Chinese city, but passions in the mainland have been just as heated — and, seemingly, almost exclusively against the demonstrators.

A pro-protest tweet by a Houston Rockets executive, Daryl Morey, ignited a firestorm of anger against the N.B.A., demonstrating the depth of feeling. Joe Tsai, the only N.B.A. owner of Chinese descent, said all of China — yes, more than one billion people — felt the same way.

“The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland,” he wrote. “This issue is non-negotiable.”

For Westerners, this is strange language. You don’t hear about the common feelings of 300 million Americans or 60 million Brits, especially in the era of Donald Trump and Brexit.

Yet, in China, there is some truth to it. Of course, it’s a vast country brimming with opinions. But the Communist Party has spent decades preparing the Chinese people for a moment like this. The stir over Hong Kong shows, in dramatic fashion, how successful it has been, and how the world could be shaped by it.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Rich…Pity?

06reeves-superJumbo

If the college admissions scandal has done anything, it has reminded us that there are two Americas that of the richest of the rich – and the rest of us.

The extent to which the super-rich have gone to get their offspring admitted to the most prestigious universities is, indeed, mind-boggling.

That’s why I was drawn to Richard Reeves op-ed, “Now the Rich Want Your Pity Too.” The author explains how the rich can’t stop at being rich, they need to work hard to be the richest, camp out to be at the front of the line to get their kids into the premier nursery school, and cheat to get them into the best colleges.

And then they complain that they have to work hellish hours to do all this “goodness.” Reeves has some suggestions – for all of us:

I have some better — and cheaper — ideas to improve the lives of the rich. If you are spending thousands of dollars and thousands of hours cultivating your children to get them into the most selective institutions: Just stop. Your kids will be just fine attending a good public university. And everyone’s life will be more relaxed in the meantime.

If you are a professional working yourself sick in order to make a big salary: Just stop. Nobody is forcing you to work such long hours. Maybe you will only be rich, as opposed to superrich. But you’ll be O.K.

If you are a homeowner with a huge mortgage that you took on in order to live in the very best neighborhood: Just stop. There is no law that says you have to live in the most expensive ZIP code you can afford.

Because, you see, nobody is making you do these stressful, expensive things. It is not a trap. It is a choice. If you don’t want to be stressed out, stop making decisions that will stress you out. It is probably true that rich Americans are making decisions about their lives and their children’s lives that are resulting in more stress and more spending — and so more stress. But it is also true that they could be making different choices. They are not powerless.

Want more? You can read the full article here

For Duty and Honor

For Duty and Honor - CreateSpace Cover - (2018-02-19)

Of all the countries that have adversarial relations with the United States, Iran likely heads the list. There are a plethora of reasons why, not the least of which is Iran’s quest to be the dominant power in the Mideast.

How we deal with that threat has always troubled me, as well as how much Iran’s bad behavior America should tolerate.

I used those threads as the high-concept for my most recent novel, For Duty and Honor.

Recently, Rotor Review posted a short review of For Duty and Honor. I believe it sums up the book well. Trust you’ll enjoy it – as well as the book.

Rolling the Dice on AI

07Wu-superJumbo

There are no bombs falling on our cities, but America is at war. And the battlespace is artificial intelligence.

Our peer adversaries get this and are investing hundreds of billions of dollars to dominate the world of AI – and yes – dominate the world.

Sadly, our approach to winning this war is to let someone else – in this case, Silicon Valley – worry about it.

Tim Wu nailed it in his piece, “America’s Risky Approach to AI.” Here’s how he begins:

The brilliant 2014 science fiction novel “The Three-Body Problem,” by the Chinese writer Liu Cixin, depicts the fate of civilizations as almost entirely dependent on winning grand races to scientific milestones. Someone in China’s leadership must have read that book, for Beijing has made winning the race to artificial intelligence a national obsession, devoting billions of dollars to the cause and setting 2030 as the target year for world dominance. Not to be outdone, President Vladimir Putin of Russia recently declared that whoever masters A.I. “will become the ruler of the world.”

To be sure, the bold promises made by A.I.’s true believers can seem excessive; today’s A.I. technologies are useful only in narrow situations. But if there is even a slim chance that the race to build stronger A.I. will determine the future of the world — and that does appear to be at least a possibility — the United States and the rest of the West are taking a surprisingly lackadaisical and alarmingly risky approach to the technology.

The plan seems to be for the American tech industry, which makes most of its money in advertising and selling personal gadgets, to serve as champions of the West. Those businesses, it is hoped, will research, develop and disseminate the most important basic technologies of the future. Companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft are formidable entities, with great talent and resources that approximate those of small countries. But they don’t have the resources of large countries, nor do they have incentives that fully align with the public interest.

To exaggerate slightly: If this were 1957, we might as well be hoping that the commercial airlines would take us to the moon.

If the race for powerful A.I. is indeed a race among civilizations for control of the future, the United States and European nations should be spending at least 50 times the amount they do on public funding of basic A.I. research. Their model should be the research that led to the internet, funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, created by the Eisenhower administration and arguably the most successful publicly funded science project in American history.

You can read the full article here

Work = Love?

00sl_loveloathe-superJumbo

One of the things that bind most humans together is that they work. It’s in our DNA and part of our survival instincts – and it also pays the rent.

There have been days when work has been less-than-uplifting that I’ve had to remind myself, “That’s why they call it a J.O.B.”

And that is why I was drawn to Tim Herrera’s great piece, “Learning to Love Your Job.” Here’s how he begins:

Do you like what you do?

Now, I don’t mean that in the broad sense of wondering whether you’re on the right career path. I mean on a day-to-day basis, if you thought about every single task your job entails, could you name the parts that give you genuine joy? What about the tasks you hate?

It’s an odd question. We don’t often step back to ask whether the small, individual components of our job actually make us happy.

But maybe we should. As many as a third of United States workers say they don’t feel engaged at work. The reasons vary widely, and everyone’s relationship with work is unique. But there are small ways to improve any job, and those incremental improvements can add up to major increases in job satisfaction.

A study from the Mayo Clinic found that physicians who spend about 20 percent of their time doing “work they find most meaningful are at dramatically lower risk for burnout.” But here’s what’s fascinating: Anything beyond that 20 percent has a marginal impact, as “spending 50 percent of your time in the most meaningful area is associated with similar rates of burnout as 20 percent.”

In other words: You don’t need to change everything about your job to see substantial benefits. A few changes here and there can be all you need.

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

Rewrite?

10KAMILREICHL-articleLarge

Most of us who have written for a while know the inestimable value of a good editor. The challenge us, they sometimes infuriate us, but for me, they are mostly right.

I’ve been blessed with fabulous editors over the years who worked hard at the often herculean task of helping make my writing sing, not just sit there on the pages and muddle.

But I’ve always been challenged to articulate exactly WHAT these great editors have done, and let others into the tent to examine how they did what they did.

That’s why I was delighted to read Ruth Reichl’s recent piece where the Gourmet editor remembers editor Susan Kamil, who died last month.

The headline of the article is:  ‘I Think You Need to Rewrite It’: Ruth Reichl on What Makes an Editor Great. Here is how she begins:

Halfway through my last memoir, my editor, Susan Kamil, said, “Maybe you should just move on. This isn’t working.”

I threw the phone across the room. I’d been working on the book for a couple of years, sending drafts back and forth to Susan. “I’m sorry,” she continued, “it’s good, but if you’re not willing to go deeper, there’s just no point.”

Susan Kamil never let you off the hook.

When Susan died on September 8, there was an outpouring of grief from the entire publishing community. Susan was the most lovable person: enormously generous, endlessly kind, crazy for cats and great fun to be with. Always dressed in bluejeans and sneakers, she was one of the few women who was equally adored by both men and women. A gifted publisher, she was also a wonderful boss. But above all, Susan was an editor.

Susan didn’t just read your manuscript and offer suggestions; she became your collaborator, your partner. With Susan, a book was an ongoing conversation, and she filled every page of every manuscript with questions, suggestions, comments. The process never ended: She kept fretting over the words until the book went to press. She couldn’t help herself. In Susan’s mind a book was never really finished, and I suspect she found it impossible to read even the dustiest, most ancient tome without a pencil in her hand.

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