China and the World

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Much ink has been spilled regarding China’s rise and how its government – meaning the Chinese Communist Party – sees the world.

Sadly, some of the reporting has been shrill, biased, inaccurate, or all three. That is why I enjoyed a recent piece, “The Tenacity of Chinese Communism.”

The subtitle, “How the party revived an ancient philosophy to extol order and compel obedience,” tells you where the piece is going. Here is how it begins:

When Chairman Mao Zedong stepped forward in Tiananmen Square on Oct. 1, 1949, and proclaimed — in standard Chinese but in a thick Hunanese accent — the founding of the People’s Republic of China, many patriots rejoiced. A large number of Chinese who were not Communists were still happy that after years of humiliation by foreign powers, a vicious Japanese invasion and a bloody civil war, China was now finally united. For the first time in roughly a century the Chinese had regained their dignity. Mao was widely credited for this.

Many Chinese patriots would one day regret their enthusiasm. Mao not only turned against what he called “class enemies,” or indeed anyone who did not follow him slavishly, but he also unleashed greater violence on the Chinese people than even the Japanese had. The Cultural Revolution, during which it is believed that up to two million people were murdered, was just the last of his great purges.

And yet, Mao’s feat of unifying the country and restoring national pride is still a reason for many people in China to respect his legacy, and for the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.) to justify its continued monopoly on power. The fear of violent disorder runs deep and is consistently drummed into Chinese of all ages. Party propagandists insist that China without Communist rule would descend once more into chaos and fall prey to hostile foreign powers.

There are, however, other reasons the C.C.P. is still in power in China, even after Communist rule has collapsed almost everywhere else.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Too Much Political Passion?

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Few would argue that the level of political discourse in America today is perhaps more toxic than most people remember.

That said, some of us do remember a time in the 1960s and 1970s when things were equally – if not more – toxic.

That all came back when I read Mark Rudd’s Op-ed, “I Was Part of the Weather Underground. Violence Is Not the Answer.”

His subtitle, “Fifty years ago, a deadly explosion in Greenwich Village forced me to confront our warped sense of morality,” tees up his piece. Here is how he begins:

Fifty years ago, on March 6, 1970, an explosion destroyed a townhouse on West 11th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village. Three people — Terry Robbins, 22, Ted Gold, 22, and Diana Oughton, 28, all close friends of mine — were obliterated when bombs they were making exploded prematurely. Two others, Kathy Boudin, 26, and Cathlyn Wilkerson, 25, escaped from the rubble.

I was not there, fortunately. But I knew what was being planned, and I did nothing to stop it.

My friends and I were members of the Weather Underground, a militant outgrowth of the Weathermen, itself a radical faction of the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society. We saw ourselves as contemporary John Browns, full of moral fervor to stop the senseless war in Vietnam. We also wanted to show solidarity with black revolutionaries ruthlessly targeted by the police and the federal government.

Unlike the vast majority of the millions-strong antiwar movement, our tiny band had rejected peaceful protest and politics, clinging to the delusion that violent revolution was imminent. Determined to “Bring the War Home!” we believed that we were reflecting back onto our fellow Americans the extreme violence of the war and of white supremacy. The bombs that detonated the morning of March 6 were intended, to my and my comrades’ shame, for a dance that night at an Army base in New Jersey.

We didn’t realize that the violence we claimed we hated had infected our souls: At the time, I’m not sure we’d have cared. No one is innocent, we thought.

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

Life Changers

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I am always searching for “THE” book, and perhaps one that will change my life or at least how I look at the world.

I felt like I hit the mother-lode when I opened the New York Times and found this headline:

“The Book That Changed My Life: Our readers offer a heartfelt tribute to the power of the written word, paying homage to Orwell, Thoreau, Betty Friedan, Julia Child and Dr. Seuss, to name but a few.”

Here is how it began:

We asked readers to pick a book that influenced how they think, act or look at the world. The more than 1,300 responses cited hundreds of books, running the gamut from “Go, Dog. Go!” to Kierkegaard.

Many of the readers described how a book guided their spiritual development (“Be Here Now,” “The Violent Bear It Away”) or helped them through a difficult time in their lives (“The Color Purple,” “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” “Being Mortal”).

For others, a book changed how they looked at food (“Diet for a Small Planet,” “Fast Food Nation,” “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”) or war (“Catch-22,” “Johnny Got His Gun”) or love (“Normal People”). And for some, one book led to a lifelong love of the written word.

We thank one of our regular letter writers, William Cole, for suggesting this idea. It clearly struck a chord with our readers.

SUSAN MERMELSTEIN and THOMAS FEYER, Letters Editors

Want to discover which books we are talking about? You can read the full piece here

The Innovation Bible

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Clayton M. Christensen, a Harvard professor whose groundbreaking 1997 book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” outlined his theories about the impact of what he called “disruptive innovation” on leading companies and catapulted him to superstar status as a management guru, died last month.

“The Innovator’s Dilemma,” which The Economist called one of the six most important business books ever written, was published during the technology boom of the late 1990s. It trumpeted Professor Christensen’s assertion that the factors that help the best companies succeed — listening responsively to customers, investing aggressively in technology products that satisfied customers’ next-generation needs — are the same reasons some of these companies fail.

These corporate giants were so focused on doing the very things that had been taught for generations at the nation’s top business schools, he wrote, that they were blindsided by small, fast-moving, innovative companies that were able to enter markets nimbly with disruptive products and services and grab large chunks of market share. By laying out a blueprint for how executives could identify and respond to these disruptive forces, Professor Christensen, himself an entrepreneur and former management consultant, struck a chord with high-tech corporate leaders.

Want more? You read the full piece here

Time Alone – Good?

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I am a big believer in the Myers Briggs type indicator, a way that we tend to “sort” our deepest inclinations that define who we are.

There are sixteen “types” based on a binary sorting of four criteria. The first one, and the most important according to experts, is whether we are an introvert of extrovert.

Most of you reading this likely put yourself in one of those two categories – and you likely didn’t have to think about it for a long time.

That’s why I was drawn to a recent article, “Why You Should Find Time to Be Alone with Yourself: Don’t confuse loneliness with time by yourself.” Here is how it begins:

Being lonely hurts — it can even negatively impact your health. But the mere act of being alone with oneself doesn’t have to be bad, and experts say it can even benefit your social relationships, improve your creativity and confidence, and help you regulate your emotions so that you can better deal with adverse situations.

“It’s not that solitude is always good, but it can be good” if you’re open to rejecting the idea — common in the west — that time by yourself is always a negative experience you’re being forced into, according to Thuy-vy Nguyen, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Durham University, who studies solitude.

“We have some evidence to show that valuing solitude doesn’t really hurt your social life, in fact, it might add to it,” she said, pointing out that because solitude helps us regulate our emotions, it can have a calming effect that prepares us to better engage with others.

Choosing to spend time doing things by yourself can have mental, emotional and social benefits, but the key to reaping those positive rewards comes from choosing to spend time alone. In a culture where we often confuse being alone for loneliness, the ability to appreciate time by ourselves prevents us from processing the experience as a negative thing. In fact, getting better at identifying moments when we need solitude to recharge and reflect can help us better handle negative emotions and experiences, like stress and burnout, said Emily Roberts, a psychotherapist.

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

Nurturing Creativity

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Find anyone who writes anything and you will find a creative mind. But all writers get stuck, and they usually get stuck at the front end of the creative process.

That’s why I always enjoy the New York Times Better Living columns about creativity. I’ll found several of them online bundled together. Here is how they begin.

First, Give Permission: Tapping into your thoughts, dreams and imaginations is the first step to finding your inner creativity

I think I know what you do before you go to bed every night. Don’t worry, everyone does it. You imagine. You imagine some or another version of: If I only had this much money, I’d spend a weekend in the Caribbean; if I’d had just a second more to think, I know what I would’ve said to that jerk who had too many items in the express checkout aisle; or if I’d had just a second to think about it, I know what I’d have said to that beauty I nearly talked to reading my favorite book at the café.

We all have fantasies or, if you prefer, ideas. I will give them a different word: “Seeds.” These seeds are the germ-line of books, short stories, songs, the faces in a painting. Sometimes, when the idea is for a gadget that might, say, keep that guy in the car next to you from texting and driving, it’s the seed of an app or business. If it’s a doodle made during a boring corporate meeting, it’s the seed of an art project; the mixture of the barbecue sauce with the onions and the lemon might be the seed of the next, great slow-cooking invention.

Want more? You can read several creative tips here

The U.S. and China

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Most think the relationship between the United States and China will be the most important issue of the 21st Century. Many think it already is. I am one of them

Sadly, when most Americans think about China today, if not the Coronavirus, what they think about is trade. But there is so much more to consider.

That is why I gravitated to a piece by Tom Friedman, “The World-Shaking News That You’re Missing.” Here is how he began:

One of the most negative byproducts of the Trump presidency is that all we talk about now is Donald Trump. Don’t get me wrong: How can we not be fixated on a president who daily undermines the twin pillars of our democracy: truth and trust?

But there are some tectonic changes underway behind the Trump noise machine that demand a serious national discussion, like the future of U.S.-China relations. Yet it’s not happening — because all we talk about is Donald Trump.

Consider this: On Nov. 9, European leaders gathered in Berlin to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was an anniversary worth celebrating. But no one seemed to notice that almost exactly 30 years after the Berlin Wall fell, a new wall — a digital Berlin Wall — had begun to be erected between China and America. And the only thing left to be determined, a Chinese business executive remarked to me, “is how high this wall will be,” and which countries will choose to be on which side.

This new wall, separating a U.S.-led technology and trade zone from a Chinese-led one, will have implications as vast as the wall bisecting Berlin did. Because the peace, prosperity and accelerations in technology and globalization that have so benefited the world over the past 40 years were due, in part, to the interweaving of the U.S. and Chinese economies.

You can read the full piece here

Role Models

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Caroll Spinney, who portrayed Big Bird on Sesame Street for decades, died late last year. But the lessons he shared on “Sesame Street” live on.

While many look to political figures, actors, rock stars and others for advice, Big Bird offers some great life lessons. Here is how an article about the Sesame Street star begins:

Who among us didn’t learn something from Caroll Spinney’s Big Bird over the years? Spinney, who for decades brought the Gentle Giant to life (and also Oscar the Grouch), died, but the lessons he shared live on with the millions of people who grew up watching “Sesame Street.”

Beyond alphabet recitals and numerical countdowns, everybody’s favorite feathered friend had valuable things to say to both children and grown-ups about the value of cooperation and the best ways to navigate complex emotions. Life can be tough, he told us, but it’s going to be all right. Here are a few of the tricky topics Big Bird broke down for viewers young and old.

  • Self-Confidence
  • Healthy Eating
  • Breastfeeding
  • Understanding Disability
  • Gaslighting
  • Competition
  • Dealing with Disaster
  • Fear
  • Death

Want more? You can read these nine ways here

Tech Rising?

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Last month, I blogged about technology and featured an article that asked the question, “Has Technology Peaked?

Piling on to that post, here are the most recent (February 11, 2020) from the Wall Street Journal of those companies with over a one trillion dollar valuation:

  • Microsoft: $1.44 trillion
  • Apple: $1.41 trillion
  • Amazon: $1.06 trillion
  • Alphabet: $1.04 trillion

Oh, and Facebook is the next-most highly valued company at $607 billion.

Has technology peaked? What do you think?

Forever War?

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It has been over a decade since New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins penned his best-seller, The Forever War.

As anticipated, the book raised important questions as to why the United States was still engaged in Afghanistan. Sadly, we are still there.

That is why I was drawn to a recent article: “Americans Demand a Rethinking of the ‘Forever War.’” Here is how it begins:

Nearly two decades after the fall of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon, American troops continue to wage war in Iraq, Afghanistan and lesser-known corners of the globe. President Trump almost opened another front last month when he approved the killing of Iran’s most powerful general.

“We took one of the world’s deadliest terrorists off the battlefield for good,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said recently, justifying the drone strike on Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.

In other words, in the “war on terror,” the Iranian leader was fair game.

Last week, Democrats and some Republicans in the House voted to repeal one of two longstanding war authorizations that have helped justify all manner of American military action abroad. It was a challenge not only to President Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran, but also to the thinking in Washington that has sustained the war-fighting since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

For more than 18 years, the war on terrorism — the “forever war” or “endless war,” as many call it — has been used as the basis for an ever-expanding range of military actions: an invasion of Iraq that, by one count, has left nearly 300,000 dead; airstrikes in Afghanistan that have sometimes unintentionally killed scores at wedding parties as well as Qaeda leaders; and now the Suleimani drone strike. Mr. Trump said the general, who had helped arm anti-American militias in the Iraq war, had been plotting new “imminent and sinister attacks.”

Want more? You can read the full article here