Facebook

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It’s been about 5 years since Jim Cramer and Bob Lang coined the acronym “FANG” for mega-cap high growth stocks Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet Google.

And while it just happens to lead a handy acronym, Facebook is quite possibly the most controversial tech company of all time.

For most, this is due to one person, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. It has been almost a decade since the movie about Facebook and its founder, The Social Network, hit with such force.

We remain fascinated by Facebook and Zuckerberg. We want to learn more, but we want something different. That’s why I was drawn in by a book review for “Zucked.” Here’s how it begins:

The dystopia George Orwell conjured up in “1984” wasn’t a prediction. It was, instead, a reflection. Newspeak, the Ministry of Truth, the Inner Party, the Outer Party — that novel sampled and remixed a reality that Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism had already made apparent. Scary stuff, certainly, but maybe the more frightening dystopia is the one no one warned you about, the one you wake up one morning to realize you’re living inside.

Roger McNamee, an esteemed venture capitalist, would appear to agree. “A dystopian technology future overran our lives before we were ready,” he writes in “Zucked.” Think that sounds like overstatement? Let’s examine the evidence. At its peak the planet’s fourth most valuable company, and arguably its most influential, is controlled almost entirely by a young man with the charisma of a geometry T.A. The totality of this man’s professional life has been running this company, which calls itself “a platform.”

Company, platform — whatever it is, it provides a curious service wherein billions of people fill it with content: baby photos, birthday wishes, concert promotions, psychotic premonitions of Jewish lizard-men. No one is paid by the company for this labor; on the contrary, users are rewarded by being tracked across the web, even when logged out, and consequently strip-mined by a complicated artificial intelligence trained to sort surveilled information into approximately 29,000 predictive data points, which are then made available to advertisers and other third parties, who now know everything that can be known about a person without trepanning her skull. Amazingly, none of this is secret, despite the company’s best efforts to keep it so. Somehow, people still use and love this platform. Want more? You can read the full article here

Unsung Warriors

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Much has been written – most of it reasonable, but some of it shrill – regarding women in the U.S. military.

While integration of women into the U.S. military has progressed by leaps and bounds in the last few decades, one place that has remained a male-only bastion has been Special Operations.

Or has it? Four Americans were killed by a suicide bomber in Syria in mid-January. One was U.S. Navy Cryptologic Technician Chief Petty Officer Shannon Kent. She was operating with the U.S. Navy SEALs. While not “officially” a SEAL or other Special Operator, she was just as vital to the mission as her male counterparts – and just as vulnerable.

Here is how a recent New York Times article describes how Chief Petty Officer Kent served – and died.

Given who she really was, military officials had little choice in how they described Shannon Kent. They said only that she was a “cryptologic technician,” which anyone might assume meant that her most breakneck work was behind a desk.

In reality, she spent much of her professional life wearing body armor and toting an M4 rifle, a Sig Sauer pistol strapped to her thigh, on operations with Navy SEALs and other elite forces — until a suicide bombing took her life last month in northeastern Syria.

She was, in all but name, part of the military’s top-tier Special Operations forces. Officially a chief petty officer in the Navy, she actually worked closely with the nation’s most secretive intelligence outfit, the National Security Agency, to target leaders of the Islamic State.

The last few years have seen a profound shift in attitudes toward women in combat roles. Since 2016, combat jobs have been open to female service members, and they have been permitted to try out for Special Operations units. More than a dozen have completed the Army’s Ranger school, one of the most challenging in the military. Some have graduated from infantry officer courses, and even command combat units. And in November, a woman completed the Army’s grueling Special Forces Assessment and Selection course, the initial step to becoming a Green Beret.

Yet Chief Kent illustrates an unspoken truth: that for many years women have been doing military jobs as dangerous, secretive and specialized as anything men do. This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

Easy Not To Be Rude

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Remember when e-mail was novel? Remember Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in the 1998 movie “You’ve Got Mail.” Recall how excited she was when her computer went “bing.”

We’ve come a long way in the last two-plus decades since that movie. Most of us feel we are drowning in e-mails. The difference is how we deal with it.

That’s why I found Adam Grant’s piece, “No, You Can’t Ignore E-Mail. It’s Rude,” so refreshing – and useful.

Far from being a polemic against those who ignore their e-mails, he shows how those who can’t (or choose not to) keep up are hurting themselves at work and in life. Here’s how he begins:

I’m really sorry I didn’t say hi, make eye contact or acknowledge your presence in any way when you waved to me in the hallway the other day. It’s nothing personal. I just have too many people trying to greet me these days, and I can’t respond to everyone.

That sounds ridiculous, right? You would never snub a colleague trying to strike up a conversation. Yet when you ignore a personal email, that’s exactly what you’ve done: digital snubbery.

Yes, we’re all overwhelmed with email. One recent survey suggested that the average American’s inbox has 199 unread messages. But volume isn’t an excuse for not replying. Ignoring email is an act of incivility.

“I’m too busy to answer your email” really means “Your email is not a priority for me right now.” That’s a popular justification for neglecting your inbox: It’s full of other people’s priorities. But there’s a growing body of evidence that if you care about being good at your job, your inbox should be a priority.

When researchers compiled a huge database of the digital habits of teams at Microsoft, they found that the clearest warning sign of an ineffective manager was being slow to answer emails. Responding in a timely manner shows that you are conscientious — organized, dependable and hardworking. And that matters. In a comprehensive analysis of people in hundreds of occupations, conscientiousness was the single best personality predictor of job performance. (It turns out that people who are rude online tend to be rude offline, too.) Want more? You can read the full article here

Reading and Writing

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While there is a massive amount of good writing advice from multiple sources, if there is one that is routinely at the top of every “advice” list, it’s: “Every good writer is a reader.”

Great advice, but it’s often packaged in ways that don’t always resonate. That’s why I was drawn in by a recent piece, “How to Tap Your Inner Reader.” Here’s how it began:

Studies suggest all kinds of benefits to reading, including increased empathy, stress reduction and memory retention. It can even curb your criminal instincts, according to some researchers, although my family might have their doubts about me. 

But if you’re a reader, you probably love books not because they lower your cholesterol but because they bring you joy. Reading is, ideally, a leisure activity: the kind of thing you can devote an afternoon to while dinner is bubbling in the slow cooker and the cat is curled at your feet and you slouch in an armchair like a teenager (hey, maybe you are a teenager) losing yourself in a world somebody else has imagined into being. Reading a book is a form of communication because you’re communing: The writer speaks, the reader listens, and somewhere along the way you achieve a real intimacy, of a sort. That’s magical. 

But leisure activities require leisure time, and who’s got that? Let’s face it; the afternoon in the armchair probably isn’t happening, even if somebody else takes care of dinner. Finding time to read generally means making time to read, and that means making it a priority. If you can incorporate the gym into your regular routine, you can incorporate quality time with a book too.  Want more? You can read it here

China!

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An enormous amount of ink has been spilled regarding China and especially China’s rise. I have blogged about China frequently on this site, most recently, earlier this month, here.

When I saw David Brook’s recent Op-Ed, “How China Brings Us Together,” I wasn’t prepared for his subtitle: “An existential threat for the 21st century.”

It got my attention – and it should get yours. Here’s how he begins:

I’ve always thought Americans would come together when we realized that we faced a dangerous foreign foe. And lo and behold, now we have one: China. It’s become increasingly clear that China is a grave economic, technological and intellectual threat to the United States and the world order.

And sure enough, beneath the TV bluster of daily politics, Americans are beginning to join together. Mike Pence and Elizabeth Warren can sound shockingly similar when talking about China’s economic policy. Nancy Pelosi and Republicans sound shockingly similar when they talk about Chinese human rights abuses. Conservative and liberal policy thinkers can sound shockingly similar when they start talking about how to respond to the challenge from China.

For the past few decades, China has appeared to be a net positive force in world affairs. Sure, Beijing violated trade agreements and escalated regional tensions. But the Chinese economic explosion lowered our cost of living and expanded prosperity worldwide.

But a few things have now changed. First, instead of liberalizing, the Chinese regime has become more aggressive and repressive. This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

Climate Panic

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Climate change! Some have called it an existential threat to humanity. Others have denied its existence.

If one thing is true it’s that the arguments about climate change have become increasingly shrill and that it is increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction.

That’s why I found Davis Wallace-Wells recent, short article on the subject so refreshing. He explains the “why” behind our inability to take on this challenge in especially compelling terms. Here is how he begins:

The age of climate panic is here. Last summer, a heat wave baked the entire Northern Hemisphere, killing dozens from Quebec to Japan. Some of the most destructive wildfires in California history turned more than a million acres to ash, along the way melting the tires and the sneakers of those trying to escape the flames. Pacific hurricanes forced three million people in China to flee and wiped away almost all of Hawaii’s East Island.

We are living today in a world that has warmed by just one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 1800s, when records began on a global scale. We are adding planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at a rate faster than at any point in human history since the beginning of industrialization.

In October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released what has become known as its “Doomsday” report — “a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen,” as one United Nations official described it — detailing climate effects at 1.5 and two degrees Celsius of warming (2.7 and 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). At the opening of a major United Nations conference two months later, David Attenborough, the mellifluous voice of the BBC’s “Planet Earth” and now an environmental conscience for the English-speaking world, put it even more bleakly: “If we don’t take action,” he said, “the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

Scientists have felt this way for a while. But they have not often talked like it. For decades, there were few things with a worse reputation than “alarmism” among those studying climate change. This is a bit strange. You don’t typically hear from public health experts about the need for circumspection in describing the risks of carcinogens, for instance. The climatologist James Hansen, who testified before Congress about global warming in 1988, has called the phenomenon “scientific reticence” and chastised his colleagues for it — for editing their own observations so conscientiously that they failed to communicate how dire the threat actually was. Want more? You can read the full article here

Missile Defense

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There are few existential threats to the United States. At the top of most lists are ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The United States has been pursuing an effective defense against this threat since President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative decades ago.

Recently, the Pentagon unveiled its new Missile Defense Strategy, the first in many years. Here’s how a recent New York Times article explained it. It begins:

President Trump vowed on Thursday to reinvigorate and reinvent American missile defenses in a speech that recalled Cold War-era visions of nuclear adversaries — though he never once mentioned Russia or China, the two great-power threats to the United States.

While the president infused the new missile efforts with his ambitions for a Space Force, the actual plans released by the Pentagon were far more incremental. As a political matter, Mr. Trump’s speech seemed designed to play well with his base, a tough-sounding call to a new generation of arms that evoked Ronald Reagan’s 1983 “Star Wars” missile defense program.

“Our goal is simple: to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, any time, any place,” Mr. Trump said.

“Our strategy is grounded in one overriding objective: to detect and destroy every type of missile attack against any American target, whether before or after launch,” he said. “When it comes to defending America, we will not take any chances. We will only take action. There is no substitute for American military might.” Want more? You can read the full article here

Go Greek!

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Can you stand one more “self-help” book? Most of us can’t, so I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when I read a review of, “Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life.

The review was great. The book was better. This blog would be pages long if I told you all about the book, so please enjoy a few paragraphs from the review. Here’s how it begins:

Three years ago, New Year’s came and I promised to eat only organic. I lasted two weeks. A year ago, I resolved to run before dawn and take a cold shower every morning. That lasted two days. This year, I don’t have a resolution. Instead I read Edith Hall’s “Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life,” and concluded I probably didn’t have to undergo some painful — and therefore temporary — transformation to remake my life. I just had to put some sustained effort into being properly happy.

There is a pernicious, but widely held, belief that turning over a new leaf always involves turning our worlds upside down, that living a happy, well-adjusted life entails acts of monkish discipline or heroic strength. The genre of self-help lives and dies on this fanaticism: We should eat like cave men, scale distant mountains, ingest live charcoal, walk across scalding stones, lift oversize tires, do yoga in a hothouse, run a marathon, run another. In our culture, virtuous moderation and prudence rarely sell but, taking her cues from Aristotle, Hall offers a set of reasons to explain why they should.

Hall’s new book clears a rare middle way for her reader to pursue happiness, what the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia, usually translated as well-being or prosperity. This prosperity has nothing to do with the modern obsession with material success but rather “finding a purpose in order to realize your potential and working on your behavior to become the best version of yourself.” It sounds platitudinous enough, but it isn’t, thanks to Hall’s tight yet modest prose.

“Aristotle’s Way” carefully charts the arc of a virtuous life that springs from youthful talent, grows by way of responsible decisions and self-reflection, finds expression in mature relationships, and comes to rest in joyful retirement and a quietly reverent death. Easier said than done, but Aristotle, Hall explains, is there to help. This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

2018 – Good. Really?

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We’re now over a month into 2019, we’ve kept some and likely broken most New Year’s resolutions, and 2018 has faded from our view. Not so fast.

Tired of hearing how the world is going to hell in a hand basket? According to Nicholas Kristof it isn’t. In fact, he uses compelling stats to suggest 2018 was the best year ever. Here’s how he began a recent op-ed:

The world is, as everyone knows, going to hell, but there’s still the nervous thrill of waiting to see precisely which dark force will take us down. Will the economy collapse first, the ice sheets melt first, or chaos and war envelop us first?

So here’s my antidote to that gloom: Let me try to make the case that 2018 was actually the best year in human history.

Each day on average, about another 295,000 people around the world gained access to electricity for the first time, according to Max Roser of Oxford University and his Our World in Data website. Every day, another 305,000 were able to access clean drinking water for the first time. And each day an additional 620,000 people were able to get online for the first time.

Never before has such a large portion of humanity been literate, enjoyed a middle-class cushion, lived such long lives, had access to family planning or been confident that their children would survive. Let’s hit pause on our fears and frustrations and share a nanosecond of celebration at this backdrop of progress. Want more? You can read the full article here

Arms Race

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If you had any doubt that the United States is in an arms race with China, a recent Sunday New York Times article (front page, above the fold) should dash any doubts.

Here’s how the piece, “In 5G Race With China, U.S. Pushes Allies to Fight Huawei,” begins:

Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign minister, arrived in Washington last week for a whirlwind of meetings facing a critical question: Should Britain risk its relationship with Beijing and agree to the Trump administration’s request to ban Huawei, China’s leading telecommunications producer, from building its next-generation computer and phone networks?

Britain is not the only American ally feeling the heat. In Poland, officials are also under pressure from the United States to bar Huawei from building its fifth generation, or 5G, network. Trump officials suggested that future deployments of American troops — including the prospect of a permanent base labeled “Fort Trump” — could hinge on Poland’s decision.

And a delegation of American officials showed up last spring in Germany, where most of Europe’s giant fiber-optic lines connect and Huawei wants to build the switches that make the system hum. Their message: Any economic benefit of using cheaper Chinese telecom equipment is outweighed by the security threat to the NATO alliance.

Over the past year, the United States has embarked on a stealthy, occasionally threatening, global campaign to prevent Huawei and other Chinese firms from participating in the most dramatic remaking of the plumbing that controls the internet since it sputtered into being, in pieces, 35 years ago. This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here