Common Ground

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Every so often, I find an article that speaks volumes about how we live our lives and sometimes suggests a course correction.

That’s why I was taken by Erick Erickson’s revealing piece, “How to Find Common Ground.” He admits it took a near-death experience to inspire him to write this article. Here is part of what he shared:

“As we have moved more of our lives onto the internet, we have stopped living in actual communities. Instead we have created virtual communities where everyone thinks the same. We do not have to worry about the homeless man under the bridge because he is no longer part of our community. He is someone else’s problem. But that simply is not true.”

“Even as the internet provides us great advances, it also segments us. We have social-media tribes and our self-esteem is based on likes and retweets. We have hundreds of television channels and even more video choices online where Hollywood no longer has to worry about broad appeal. There is a channel for everyone, and everyone in the tribe will get the inside jokes. Social-media interactions have replaced the value of character.”

“The truth, though, is that our Facebook friends are probably not going to water our flowers while we are on vacation and our Twitter followers will not bring us a meal if we are sick. But the actual human being next door might do both if we meet him.”

“This is what I want my children to know if I should die before they wake. The kitchen table is the most important tool they have to reshape their community. Preparing a home-cooked meal and inviting people over, both those we know and those we want to know, forces us to find common ground.”

Want more? You can read the full article here

Making a Difference

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Most Americans will say they are “for” racial equality. But to borrow a term coined by an American president decades ago, they (we) are the silent majority.

My sense is that many people want to “do” something beyond treating all individuals they encounter with dignity and self-worth.

That’s OK for most of us, but when someone is in a leadership position, not speaking up become silent ascent.

That’s why I was so taken by the remarks by Lieutenant General  Jay Silveria, the superintendent of the US Air Force Academy, who made a sharp statement to cadets after racial slurs were discovered on students’ rooms. This short video will make you think.

American Dream

Lots of ink has been spilled on the idea of “The American Dream.” And there has been more heat than light on the subject. That’s why I found Peggy Noonan’s thoughts so enlightening. Here is part of what she said:

I want to think aloud about the American dream. People have been saying for a while that it’s dead. It’s not, but it needs strengthening. We should start by saying what it means, which is something we’ve gotten mixed up about. I know its definition because I grew up in the heart of it and remember how people had long understood it. The American dream is the belief, held by generation after generation since our beginning and reanimated over the decades by waves of immigrants, that here you can start from anywhere and become anything. In America you can rise to the heights no matter where and in what circumstances you began. You can go from the bottom to the top.

Behind the dream was another belief: America was uniquely free, egalitarian and arranged so as to welcome talent. Lincoln was elected president in part because his supporters brought lengths of crude split-rails to the Republican National Convention in Chicago in 1860. They held the rails high and paraded them in a floor demonstration to tell everyone: This guy was nothing but a frontier rail splitter, a laborer, a backwoods nobody. Now he will be president. What a country. What a dream.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Aging and Rewards

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Quick: Think of a benefit of getting older. Are you stuck? I was, until something happened to me. I knew what it was, but couldn’t articulate it. Then veteran CBS correspondent came to the rescue with her article: “Grandbabies: The Great Reward.” Here is part of what she said:

Happy Mother’s Day to all us grandmothers [and grandfathers] we band of lovesick indulgers whose ability to say no seems to be disabled the day our grandbabies are born. We sneak them candy when Mom says no, we let them play on iPads, read them “Fancy Nancy” over and over … and over. We get out our wallets whenever they point to something and say, “I want dat.” Yup, that’s us. And it’s Grampa, too. Someone wise said, “If God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his grandson, he’d have said, ‘No way!’ ”

As a demographic, we have swelled into a giant bulge in the population. There are more than 27,000 new grandparents in the United States every week. Many are the “revolutionaries” of the 1960s and ’70s — the pioneer women who entered the white-collar work force. Well, now, 40, 50 years later, these same women are pioneers again, this time reinventing grandparenting.

One way is that we’re in our grandchildren’s lives more than ever before, whether from across the country thanks to Skype and FaceTime or as “granny nannies” — in some cases full time.

And my generation is spending more money on our grandchildren, 64 percent more than grandparents did just 10 years ago, doling out, for instance, roughly $4.3 billion a year on primary and secondary school tuition. We’re also spending on everyday needs like baby food, clothes and tricycles as well as big-ticket items like the crib, the stroller, a piano (that was me). We’re straightening their teeth when they get a little older.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Love

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Not everyone is comfortable with telling others, even family members, “I love you.” For those of us who are proud baby-boomers, it’s not something our parents were comfortable with.

I always wondered why this was. That’s why I was so taken by a New York Times article entitled: “My Dad’s Change of Heart.” Here is part of what the writer said:

“I love you.”

Those three simple words messed me up for an entire week. I asked my wife if she heard them, too, or if I was hallucinating. I couldn’t believe the man in front of me said them. It wasn’t the message, but the messenger: my father.

Who was this impostor? Could it be that this Pakistani-American immigrant, who grills halal lamb chops in boxers and sandals while listening to Sabri Brothers qawwali, had just said this to his almost-3-year-old grandson, Ibrahim?

I understand how fatherhood, and grandfatherhood, can profoundly change a man. The joyous burden forces some of us to adjust our career priorities, creates excessive anxiety for tiny people who don’t pay rent and inspires a lifelong goal of trying to become the only man in existence who looks cool driving a Toyota Sienna.

But this sentiment from my father was a drastic disruption of a life I had always known.

In my 36 years of existence, my parents have never said “I love you” to me or vice versa. We are not an “I love you” family. Years ago, my mother told me “I love you” was for “Amreekans” and “goras” (white people), which at the time were synonymous, until they realized South Asians and other immigrants had every right to claim the American label as well.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Internet Demons

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The Internet is our helpmate. Right? It sure seemed that way as the Internet was initially introduced. There was great expectation that it would change our lives for the better and enrich us beyond measure. But there’s been, as Peter Falk used to say in his Columbo series, “That little voice in the back of my head,” telling me something might be amiss.

That said, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what the issue was. That’s why I found a New York Times Op-Ed by Ross Douthat entitled “Resist the Internet” so intriguing. Here is part of what he shared:

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.

Compulsions are rarely harmless. The internet is not the opioid crisis; it is not likely to kill you (unless you’re hit by a distracted driver) or leave you ravaged and destitute. But it requires you to focus intensely, furiously, and constantly on the ephemera that fills a tiny little screen, and experience the traditional graces of existence — your spouse and friends and children, the natural world, good food and great art — in a state of perpetual distraction.

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.

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. We just have to choose together, to embrace temperance and paternalism both. Only a movement can save you from the tyrant in your pocket.

Want more? You can read the full article here

The U.S. Navy

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In a recent book review, of a new book from Richard McGregor entitled Asia’s Reckoning, Robert Kaplan, one of the most respected writers on international affairs, commented on the brittle nature of political, economic and military security in Asia.

As part of his review, he noted the following:

“Over the span of the decades since World War II, the United States Navy has made Asia rich but not altogether stable. It was only the security guarantee provided by the U.S. Navy that allowed Asian countries not to fear one another and thus to concentrate on building their economies instead of their militaries…Thus the U.S. military, principally the Navy, remains the most important factor in keeping the peace. And the U.S. Navy, as we know from recent mishaps at sea, is being stretched to the limit.”

After thirty years in a U.S. Navy uniform and another fifteen working as a Navy civilian supporting the Fleet, I see the U.S. Navy’s decline, starkly, every day. The recent groundings and collisions, with their tragic loss of life, are the result of a long decline in the size and readiness of our Navy.

Rather than offering a detailed opinion on the “whys and wherefores” of this decline, I’ll refer you to a group of excellent articles on this subject. Together, they should provide a well-nuanced view of how the U.S. Navy got to where it is today, and what we as a nation can do to restore our Navy to prominence:

August 22, 2017: The Wall Street Journal, Editorial, “The Navy’s McCain Moment”

August 23, 2017: The Wall Street Journal, “Navy to Relieve Admiral of Command After Collision”

August 24, 2017: The Wall Street Journal, Seth Cropsey (Op-ed), “Has the Navy Reached a Breaking Point?”

August 28, 2017, The New York Times, “Strain on Resources Set Stage for Recent Crashes, Sailors Say”

Being “Good”

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First the good news: More Americans volunteer their time and talent for good causes across a wide spectrum. Now the bad news: Though much of this volunteerism is driven by the fact that the majority of Americans are blessed with relative material abundance, the roots of these willingness to volunteer outside of the workplace is driven by another factor, and a frightening one – Americans are more disengaged from their jobs than at any time in our history.

I had a vague notion that this was the case, but it hit home for me dramatically when I read Aaron Hurst’s New York Times piece, “Being Good Isn’t the Only Way to Go.” Here is part of what he said:

“This demand to volunteer masks a broader problem in our society. It points to the lack of purpose that we experience in our jobs. As Jessica B. Rodell, a professor at the University of Georgia, has found in her research, “when jobs are less meaningful, employees are more likely to increase volunteering to gain that desired sense of meaning.” The numbers speak for themselves. In a recent Gallup poll, 70 percent of American workers said they were not engaged with their jobs, or were actively disengaged.”

“But if people are finding satisfaction in self-expression and personal growth, as well as teamwork, then that suggests that they don’t have to search outside of work for meaning. Because it wasn’t the nonprofit’s larger goals that gave them meaning; it was the way they performed their work. And research confirms that it is possible for many people to find purpose in work, primarily through making a choice about how to approach it. Having a purpose isn’t necessarily about what a company makes or sells, but rather, it’s about how the workers approach their day.”

“Companies such as Cornerstone Capital Group have begun to adopt changes to increase employee purpose. Erika Karp, the chief executive, told me that she asked her employees whether they had a good day and to identify moments that made it so. She then works with them to refine their job, making small adjustments to change their engagement at work and boost their meaning. This is an even greater imperative with young people. In a 2011 report by Harris Interactive, commissioned by the Career Advisory Board, meaning was the top career priority for those between the ages of 21 and 31.”

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Good News!

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There is so much dreadful news leaping out of our phones, tablets or our television sets every day. For many of us, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the bad news and let yourself think there is nowhere to turn for good news.

Maybe that’s because we let our lens get too narrow. And truth-be-told, not all of us have the kind of job where we get paid to explore the world around us and see what is good and what’s not so good.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times does have the kind of job where he can look around and make that kind of assessment. That’s what drew me to his op-ed: “Good News, Despite What You’ve Heard.” Here is part of what he shared:

Cheer up: Despite the gloom, the world truly is becoming a better place. Indeed, 2017 is likely to be the best year in the history of humanity.

Perhaps the optimism doesn’t feel right. You’re alarmed by President Trump (or Nancy Pelosi), terrorism and the risk of rising seas, if we’re not first incinerated by North Korean nukes. Those are good reasons for concern, but remember that for most of history humans agonized over something more elemental: Will my children survive?

Just since 1990, more than 100 million children’s lives have been saved through vaccinations and improved nutrition and medical care. They’re no longer dying of malaria, diarrhea or unpleasant causes like having one’s intestines blocked by wriggling worms. (This is a good news column, but I didn’t say it wouldn’t be a bit gross.)

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Whither the United States

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A recent op-ed about North Korea, jointly authored by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, put an exclamation point on fact that, for the United States, as well as for most nations, foreign policy success, is to have diplomats and military officers, work hand-in-hand to ensure the security and prosperity of the United States.

That’s why I was intrigued by two recent companion New York Times articles: “The Diplomats Can’t Save Us,” and “The Generals Can’t Either.” Together they paint a challenging picture for the future of United States foreign policy. Both articles deserve a full-read by all of us. A few highlights to whet your appetite:

From “The Diplomats Can’t Save Us:”

The president signaled early on that military might, not diplomatic deftness, was his thing. Soft power was for the birds. This worldview (in essence no more than Trump’s gut) has been expressed in a proposed cut of about 30 percent in the State Department budget as military spending soars; a push to eliminate some 2,300 jobs; the vacancy of many senior posts, including 20 of the 22 assistant secretary positions requiring Senate confirmation; unfilled ambassadorships — roughly 30 percent of the total — from Paris to New Delhi; and the brushoff of the department’s input in interagency debate and in pivotal decisions, like withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. Days are now marked by resignations, unanswered messages and idled capacity.

From “The Generals Can’t Either:”

During a recent conference in Singapore, someone asked Secretary of Defense James Mattis whether, given President Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate agreement, we were “present at the destruction” of the America-led postwar order. In a twist on a remark by Abba Eban (often attributed to Churchill), the former general answered: “Bear with us. Once we have exhausted all possible alternatives, the Americans will do the right thing.”

Read more of these two revealing articles here, and here.