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

The Art of War

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Given the multiple conflicts going on the world TODAY, not the least of which is the friction between the United States and Iran, the subject of war is likely on everyone’s minds.

At times like these, it is useful to look beyond the often-shrill headlines to try to deep-dive into the essence of warfare.

That is why I was drawn to a recent book review of a new translation of The Art of War by Sun Tzu. The article title, “Well, If You Insist On Going To War,” drew me in. It begins:

The most electric war plan in semi-recent American literature appears in “A Run Through the Jungle,” a story by the much-missed Thom Jones. Here is that plan in its entirety: “Infiltrate Hanoi, grab Uncle Ho by the goatee, pull off his face and make a clean escape.” Because warfare is rarely so simple, books of strategy are consulted.

The most venerable of these, alongside “On War” (1832), by the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz, is Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” written some 2,500 years ago. There have been many translations of “The Art of War,” and a new one, by Michael Nylan, will not be the last. It’s a book that seems perpetually useful because it’s a work of philosophy as much as tactics. Doves and hawks (even vultures) can approach it for meaning. The book suggests that the real art of war is not to have to go to war.

I’ve read Sun Tzu several times, in different translations. I’m not sure why I return to it: It’s short, it’s a classic, it’s there. The book’s lessons in deception seem not to stick with me. In my mind, I’m the least devious person in the world, my motives there for all to see. But that is what a devious person would say, isn’t it?

You can read the full article here

Military-Civilian Friction

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In the midst of the current conflict with Iran, our attention often falls on the commander-in-chief and the general officers who work for him.

There have been more retired military officers working in key positions in the current administration than in recent memory.

Many wonder why that is, as well as how it is contributing to the security and prosperity of our nation. That’s why I was drawn to a recent book review, “Military Delusions.” Here is how Eliot Cohen’s review of Peter Bergen’s book begins:

Luckily, no one makes us read a book that covers all of our bad moments in the dental chair — the tut-tutting about a cracked tooth, the anesthetic-charged needle sliding into soft tissue, the high-pitched whine of the drill, the grating sound of enamel being ground away, the bleeding gum, the anodyne assurance that there are only four more visits left before the restoration is complete. Unfortunately, Peter Bergen has decided to have his readers relive the Trump foreign and national security policy equivalent in this account of the first three years of the current administration.

There it all is — the spectacular flameouts, from semitragic former generals ending up in court to harlequins flitting through White House corridors; the kooky theories of “The Fourth Turning,” which informed Stephen Bannon’s understanding of American history; the impulsive hires of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the national security adviser H. R. McMaster, and their humiliating tweet-singed send-offs; the jumped-up mediocrities incapable of writing a memo and the multimillionaires on the make with schemes to outsource the Afghan war; the birther conspiracy theories about Barack Obama; Kellyanne Conway’s invocation of the Bowling Green massacre and alternative facts; the constant expletive-laden discourse in which major American foreign policy decisions were conceptualized by the president as variations on the Anglo-Saxon monosyllable for sexual intercourse; the contempt for human rights, loyalty to allies and fidelity to covenants. And all this before the Ukrainian quid pro quo.

You can read the full article here

Future News

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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

For Duty and Honor

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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.

The Coronado Conspiracy

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After serving for thirty years as a naval aviator and now almost two decades as a Navy civilian working at a Navy warfare center where we develop new technologies to help our warfighters, I’ve come to develop a healthy respect for the enormous power of militaries and the technologies they employ.

But I’ve also developed a healthy concern for what military power can do if it falls into the wrong hands and isn’t used for just purposes.

Said a different way, the fiction projects I undertake all examine this issue. I try to do this is creative ways, blending plot, character and action.

In The Coronado Conspiracy I wondered: “What if the United States’ most senior military officers were so dissatisfied with the way the U.S. President was taking the country that they engineered a plot to try to have him  impeached? Sound like today’s headlines?

Recently, Rotor Review posted a short review of The Coronado Conspiracy. I believe it sums up the book well. Trust you’ll enjoy it – as well as the book.

 

Sentences First

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Most of us who write are always looking for writing tips. I found some good ones in a recent book review with an intriguing title: “Nailing the Jelly of Reality to the Wall.”

The book the writer reviews is, “FIRST YOU WRITE A SENTENCE: The Elements of Reading, Writing … and Life,” by Joe Moran. Here’s how he begins:

A well-formed sentence, Joe Moran writes in his humane and witty guide to meaning-making, “is a cure, however fleeting, for human loneliness.” We all write more sentences now than ever, but how hard do we think about the shape of these etheric objects? A good sentence is a considerate gift; or maybe it’s an easeful, mapless walk with your reader, through a new city — but it might also be a high-wire act (audience agog for disaster). Moran’s book contains many such metaphors for the sentence, and at least one for figurative language itself: “Metaphor is how we nail the jelly of reality to the wall.” Is the sentence a transaction, or is it an artifact? Polished performance or open invitation? “First You Write a Sentence” is a “muted love letter” to the form, arguing in its genially opinionated way for sentences that make our lives more democratic and more pleasurable.

At the calm heart of Moran’s rhetorically affable book is an idea of adroit aplomb. He thinks a sentence should slide down the gullet like a clam, hardly touching the sides. His own prose is much like this. Unlike many writers on style, he doesn’t get carried away with examples; those he provides tend to be by masters of the almost invisible art of elegantly simple diversion. The mind and ear enjoy, but don’t get snagged on, the language of William Tyndale’s English Bible, Thomas Merton’s essays, the recipes of Elizabeth David. The sentences Moran likes derive from the loose, Senecan style perfected in the 17th century by the likes of John Donne, rather than ones from the stiff, hierarchical period of Samuel Johnson a century later. The best modern sentences resemble Donne’s, with simple statements upfront, then a pileup, if need be, of clause upon appositive clause, clarifying, elaborating, potentially without cease — but casually, too, always ready to end.

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

A Novelist for the Ages

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This summer we lost one of the icons of American literature, Toni Morrison. Lovely obits have been carried in national – and international – media.

But it was Ross Douthat’s recent op-ed that caught my eye. He explained the enormous impact she had on all of us. Here’s how he began:

Toni Morrison was a great American novelist who was also a Great American Novelist. This means she had a special form of celebrity, an oracular status, and also that she was embraced by the tradition that regards novels as keys to interpreting America — insisting that you must read Morrison (and Ellison and Wright and Hurston) to understand the black experience, just as you must read Hawthorne and Melville to understand the legacy of Puritanism, or Faulkner or Cather to understand the South or West, and so on down the high-school English list.

So her passing raises the question: Is she the last of the species? The last American novelist who made novels seem essential to an educated person’s understanding of her country?

That question won’t be answerable for decades — the time it took to exhume, for instance, “Moby-Dick” and “The Great Gatsby” from their temporary graves. We can’t know how Morrison’s reputation will change, or the reputations of her peers or the status of their art form. The American novel was supposed to be eclipsed long ago by movies and television … and yet it proved resilient enough that, coming of age long after TV, I was still imprinted with the idea that novels were essential cultural ground, as important as Spielberg or “The Sopranos.”

But something has changed in the cultural status of the novel in the time I’ve been a reader, the years between Morrison’s canonization and her passing — and maybe especially the years since social media and the iPhone first arrived.

Check out this link to read more

Murder, She Read

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Who reads about true crime? The statistics don’t lie. And Kate Tuttle explains WHY in her essay. Here is just a snippet:

A 2010 study found that around 70 percent of Amazon reviews of true-crime books are by women (compared with books about war, where 82 percent of the reviews are by men). Something is going on here, but what? Men, the statistics tell us, are involved in violent crime — as perpetrators and victims alike — in much larger numbers than women. When women are connected to crime, we’re much more likely to be victims or survivors. Perhaps our fascination with these stories stems in part from wanting to learn from them. If a woman escaped her attacker in this particular way, we think, perhaps I could too.

At the most basic level, true crime satisfies that little-kid desire to see beneath the surface of everything. As a child, I was often ashamed of my curiosity, which always seemed to go in socially unacceptable directions. I’d reach for a stick to explore a dead fish at the edge of a pond. I yearned to learn taxidermy. Grown-ups smiled when I said I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up, but I knew better than to tell them my main motivation: I wanted to see everyone naked. As a teenager, I liked nothing better than testing my ability to withstand upsetting things.

Want more? You can read the full article here

La Jolla Writer’s Conference

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Want to get your book published and read by a wide audience? The La Jolla Writer’s Conference is the premier writing conference in San Diego and books up fast. Hear from the professionals who can jump start – or accelerate – your writing journey.