Solitude

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Much ink has been spilled regarding the way that social media impacts our lives. Some say it now dominates our lives. Many pay big bucks to “detox” from social media.

It’s no surprise, then, that there are a wave of new books – perhaps inspired by the fact that this year marks the 200th anniversary of the most famous believer in solitude, Henry David Thoreau.

Here is how Ellen Gamerman teed up the subject in her piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “New Books Celebrate Being Alone:”

“It’s time to go it alone, whether finding strength in self-imposed exile, surviving at sea without a soul in sight, or fixing a marriage without help from a spouse.”

Intrigued? Need solitude? You can read the full article here.

Big Enough?

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The recent news has been dominated by military crises around the globe: North Korea, Syria, Russia, ISIS and others.

The present administration has proposed a military budget $54B higher than last year. That raises the question. How big a military does America need?

A short piece in a recent New York Times entitled, “Is the Military Big Enough,” offers some keen insights and a pictorial view of the size of our military. It begins:

President Trump has proposed a $54 billion increase in defense spending, which he said would be “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” Past administrations have increased military spending, but typically to fulfill a specific mission. Jimmy Carter expanded operations in the Persian Gulf. Ronald Reagan pursued an arms race with the Soviet Union, and George W. Bush waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The United States has higher military spending than any other country partly because its foreign policy goals are more ambitious: defending its borders, upholding international order and promoting American interests abroad.

“Our current strategy is based around us being a superpower in Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific,” said Todd Harrison, the director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “We’ve sized our military to be able to fight more than one conflict at a time in those regions.”

You can read this important article and enjoy the great pictures here.

Love Work? Hate It?

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Many of us consider ourselves fortunate that we find our way to work that is interesting and fulfilling. That doesn’t mean that every day on the job is nirvana, but rather that, in general, we’re happy and engaged in our jobs. That’s why an article in the New York Times entitled, “Why You Hate Work,” spoke to me. Here is part of what the authors said:

The way we’re working isn’t working. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty, and yet still answering emails until you fall asleep.

More broadly, just 30 percent of employees in America feel engaged at work, according to a 2013 report by Gallup. Around the world, across 142 countries, the proportion of employees who feel engaged at work is just 13 percent. For most of us, in short, work is a depleting, dispiriting experience, and in some obvious ways, it’s getting worse.

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

Want more? Read this intriguing article here.

Is Your Bed Made?

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Few recent military leaders have inspired the kind of confidence and admiration that Admiral William McCraven – former head of the U.S. Special Operations Command and now the chancellor of the University of Texas System, overseeing 14 institutions with more than 200,000 students.

 

Admiral McRaven’s much anticipated book, Make Your Bed, was recently reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. Here is part of what the reviewer, John Nagl, said about the philosophy Admiral McRaven shares in his book:

“F. Scott Fitzgerald was completely wrong when he suggested “there are no second acts in American lives.” If America stands for anything, it is reinvention, renewal and second chances. Take the Navy SEAL who oversaw the most important manhunt in history and rose to command all of U.S. Special Operations Forces. What did he do for an encore? Only give the most successful college graduation speech in history—at his alma mater, the University of Texas, wearing Navy dress whites.”

“In “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . and Maybe the World,” retired Adm. William H. McRaven admits that he was nervous before the address in May 2014. He was afraid that contemporary college students wouldn’t welcome a military man, even one who had once been, just like them, a slightly hung-over Austin senior eager to graduate and get on with life. They loved his speech, and word spread. It has been viewed more than 10 million times online, and Mr. McRaven has expanded the talk into a little book that should be read by every leader in America.”

Want more? You can read the full review here.

And remember to make your bed…

The Iranian Threat

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Earlier this year, I posted a blog that talked about our new national security paradigm, focused specifically on the “4+1 construct,” revealed by then Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter at the Reagan National Defense Forum in November 2015. This new way of looking at threats to our nation focuses on “four contingencies and one condition.” Iran is one of those contingencies.

Iran is an enormous threat to the West in general and the Europe and the United States in particular. As Michael Oren suggested in his article in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend, “Iran is a Bigger Threat Than Syria and North Korea Combined,” leading off his essay by saying:

“The U.S. has signed agreements with three rogue regimes strictly limiting their unconventional military capacities. Two of those regimes—Syria and North Korea—brazenly violated the agreements, provoking game-changing responses from President Trump. But the third agreement—with Iran—is so inherently flawed that Tehran doesn’t even have to break it. Honoring it will be enough to endanger millions of lives.”

First, there are longstanding issues between the West, and especially the United States and Iran. Among the most prominent:

  • Long-standing enmity toward the United States going back to 1953
  • Vying with Saudi Arabia for dominant power in the  region
  • Ability to block the Strait of Hormuz
  • Ability to threaten U.S. naval forces
  • Robust ballistic missile program

But in addition to these long-standing issues, since the fall of 2015, Iran is behaving in ways that worry the United States. Among the biggest issues:

  • It is unknown how well nuclear sanctions will work, if at all
  • Marked increase in ballistic missile tests (flouted U.N. resolution)
  • Open and increased support for the Assad regime in Syria
  • Continued support for terrorist groups (Hezbollah)
  • Active harassing of U.S. Navy vessels in the Arabian Gulf
  • U.S. recently declared IRG a terrorist group

These are worrisome signs. Stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks to learn more about other threats to our national security.

Happy?

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If there is a universal human longing, it’s to be happy. We all want to be so. But too many of us deny ourselves this happiness by finding reasons to be unhappy: bad genes, bad luck, bad “whatever.”

That’s one of the reasons I found Arthur Brooks’ piece, “A Formula for Happiness so energizing and uplifting. He gets to the heart of the matter and helps us all shed those excuses for being unhappy. Here is part of what he says:

Happiness has traditionally been considered an elusive and evanescent thing. To some, even trying to achieve it is an exercise in futility. It has been said that “happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

Social scientists have caught the butterfly. After 40 years of research, they attribute happiness to three major sources: genes, events and values. Armed with this knowledge and a few simple rules, we can improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We can even construct a system that fulfills our founders’ promises and empowers all Americans to pursue happiness.

Want more happiness? You can read this fascinating article here.

Google and Libraries

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Google can bring you 100,000 answers, but a librarian can bring you just the right one. We all know that intuitively, but Mahesh Rao brings it home in her piece, “Lost in the Stacks.” For me, it brought me a new appreciation, maybe a renewed love, of libraries. Here is part of what she shared:

Libraries are a place of refuge. It offers a respite from the heat, from office life, from noisy households, from all the irritations that crowd in. They also offer the intangible entanglements of a common space. One of my favorite descriptions of the public library comes from the journalist and academic Sophie Mayer, who has called it “the ideal model of society, the best possible shared space,” because there “each person is pursuing their own aim (education, entertainment, affect, rest) with respect to others, through the best possible medium of the transmission of ideas, feelings and knowledge — the book.”

Libraries may have their idiosyncrasies, but the fundamentals of their ecosystem are universal. They are places of long breaks, of boredom and reverie, of solace and deliberation. They offer opportunities for unobtrusive observation, stolen glances and frissons, anticipation and nudging possibilities. And when the sensible realization strikes that a thrilling plan is better left unaccomplished, they might also become sites of abandonment.

Intrigued? You can read the full article here.

The Forever War

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Many of you will recognize the title of this post The Forever War as the same title of Dexter Filkens’ best-selling book. That book became an instant classic of war reporting, and was hailed as the definitive account of America’s conflict with Islamic fundamentalism and its human costs.

Through the eyes of Filkins, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, we witnessed the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, the aftermath of the attack on New York on September 11th, and the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But Filkens’ book was published eight years ago – and that war still drags on. Today, Brian Caster, a former explosive ordnance disposal officer who fought in The Forever War takes Filkins’ thoughts to the next level in his piece, “Still Fighting, Dying, in the Forever War.” He point out how different this war is from all our other wars. Here is part of what he shares.

“The longest conflict in American history — from Afghanistan to Iraq, to high-value target missions throughout Africa and the Middle East — has resulted in the nation’s first sustained use of the all-volunteer military, wounding and killing more and more service members who resemble Scotty: parents, spouses, career men and women. When compared with casualties of the Vietnam War, the average age of our dead in this conflict, and the proportion who are married, have both risen 20 percent. And that trend is accelerating as the burden of the fight shifts more and more to older, highly trained counterterrorism forces. As The Times reported recently, of the 18 service members lost in combat since 2016, 12 were Special Operations troops like Scotty [Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Dayton].”

“Our country has created a self-selected and battle-hardened cohort of frequent fliers, one that is almost entirely separate from mainstream civilian culture, because service in the Forever War, as many of us call it, isn’t so much about going as returning. According to data provided by the Center for a New American Security, of the 2.7 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, half have done multiple tours. More telling, 223,000 have gone at least four times, and 51,000 have done six or more deployments.”

You can read this important article here.

Internet Chains

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I’m not a Luddite. Yes, I used a slide-rule in high school and college and used computer punch-cards in grad school. But now I have all the great “I-devices,” use them frequently, and even work at a U.S. Navy laboratory where hundreds of people come to work every day and write computer code – and they’re my pals.

That said, I found Ross Douthat’s NYT piece, “Resist the Internet” absolutely riveting. He not only hit the nail on the head, he drove it deep into the board. Here’s part of what he said:

“So now it’s time to turn to the real threat to the human future: the one in your pocket or on your desk, the one you might be reading this column on right now.”

“Search your feelings, you know it to be true: You are enslaved to the internet. Definitely if you’re young, increasingly if you’re old, your day-to-day, minute-to-minute existence is dominated by a compulsion to check email and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram with a frequency that bears no relationship to any communicative need.”

“Of course it’s too soon to fully know (and indeed we can never fully know) what online life is doing to us. It certainly delivers some social benefits, some intellectual advantages, and contributes an important share to recent economic growth.”

“But there are also excellent reasons to think that online life breeds narcissism, alienation and depression, that it’s an opiate for the lower classes and an insanity-inducing influence on the politically-engaged, and that it takes more than it gives from creativity and deep thought. Meanwhile the age of the internet has been, thus far, an era of bubbles, stagnation and democratic decay — hardly a golden age whose customs must be left inviolate.”

“I suspect that versions of these ideas will be embraced within my lifetime by a segment of the upper class and a certain kind of religious family. But the masses will still be addicted, and the technology itself will have evolved to hook and immerse — and alienate and sedate — more completely and efficiently.”

“But what if we decided that what’s good for the Silicon Valley overlords who send their kids to a low-tech Waldorf school is also good for everyone else? Our devices we shall always have with us, but we can choose the terms.”

Want more? Read this intriguing article here.

My Fiction-My Life?

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Every so often, an article about writing reaches out of the pages, grabs me by the shoulders and shakes me, saying, “Yes, this is what writers like – and don’t like.”

Last Sunday’s New York Times book review had a killer-good piece on writing by Jami Attenberg entitled, “It’s My Fiction, Not My Life!” Here’s how she begins:

“The panic starts in London. I’m there publicizing my last book, and at a small press lunch, my British publicist tells me that she’s just read the novel I’ve recently finished writing. She leans close to me and says, quietly, ‘You should prepare yourself for invasive publicity.’”

“Oh, dread, I remember you. There are authors who blur the boundaries between themselves and their work: Rachel Cusk, Sheila Heti and Ben Lerner come to mind. Elif Batuman has described her new novel, “The Idiot,” as a “semi-autobiographical novel.” But I’ve always found the presumption of autobiography when applied to my work a little lazy and a lot unfair.”

The question of autobiographical fiction seems to have been with us always. Here’s Wallace Stegner in a 1990 interview with The Paris Review: “The very fact that some of my experience goes into the book is all but inescapable, and true for almost any writer I can name. Which is real and which is invented is (a) nobody’s business, and (b) a rather silly preoccupation, and (c) impossible to answer. . . . The kind of roman à clef reading determining biographical facts in fiction is not a good way to read. Read the fiction.”

Want more? You can read the full article here.