Social Animals

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While some may feel that they have world-class social skills, for most of us, we readily admit we can always use a bit of help sharpening our skills in dealing with others.

That is why I was drawn to a recent piece in the New York Times entitled: “An Adult’s Guide to Social Skills, for Those Who Were Never Taught.” Here is how it begins:

Unlike topics like math or science, social skills are more of a “learn on the job” kind of skill. When you’re a child, you can learn how to manage conflict, make friends and navigate groups by doing it. But not everyone learns the same lessons the same way. Sometimes, they take a whole lifetime to refine, and many of us never master them.

Learning social skills can be difficult if you weren’t exposed to traditional group dynamics as a child, if you struggle with a mental illness like anxiety or depression, or even if you just didn’t have a lot of positive role models when you were growing up. Young people tend to learn how to manage their own emotions, recognize those of other people and manage them both effectively by socializing. If these weren’t skills you developed growing up, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

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

Publishing Tips

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Twenty years ago, the words “self-published” meant a writer had gone to a vanity press, paid a great deal of money, and gotten several boxes of books he or she never sold. Ten years ago, things were a little better a few self-published books were able to break through and find at least a modest market. Five years ago things changed dramatically and self-publishing, thanks in large part to Amazon, began to take off.

Today, the market is reaching new heights. In a New York Times Magazine article, “Meredith Wild, a Self-Publisher Making an Imprint,” the curtain is drawn upon on this booming market. As the article points out:

Ms. Wild’s path from becoming a self-publishing star to operating her own small imprint is the latest sign that independent authors are catching up to publishers in the sophistication of their marketing and the scope of their ambitions. Self-published authors can negotiate foreign-rights deals and produce audiobooks. A handful of the most successful independent writers sell print copies of their books in physical retail stores like Barnes & Noble, Walmart and Target, giving them access to a market that traditional publishers have long dominated.

Now enterprising authors like Ms. Wild are forming their own small publishing houses. Just like the old-guard editors and publishing companies that they once defined themselves against, these new imprints promise to anoint fledgling authors with legitimacy and give them an edge in a flooded and cutthroat marketplace.

It is a new era.

Want more? You can read the full article here

The Middle East

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During my thirty-year military career I deployed to the Middle East multiple times. My interest in the region intensified each time, and remains high today.

I always was a bit adrift as to why we were there. And while I would never suggest that Former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, is someone with a deep understanding of the region, I vividly recall something she said while she was a vice-presidential candidate. When asked if the United States should be involved in the region, she said, “Let Allah sort it out.”

Now, over a decade later, veteran U.S. diplomat, Martin Indyk, is raising that same question in a thoughtful way. Here is how he begins his piece, “The Middle East Isn’t Worth It Anymore:”

Last week, despite Donald Trump’s repeated pledge to end American involvement in the Middle East’s conflicts, the U.S. was on the brink of another war in the region, this time with Iran. If Iran’s retaliation for the Trump administration’s targeted killing of Tehran’s top commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, had resulted in the deaths of more Americans, Washington was, as Mr. Trump tweeted, “locked and loaded” for all-out confrontation.

Why does the Middle East always seem to suck the U.S. back in? What is it about this troubled region that leaves Washington perpetually caught between the desire to end U.S. military involvement there and the impulse to embark on yet another Middle East war?

As someone who has devoted four decades of his life to the study and practice of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East, I have been struck by America’s inability over the past two administrations to resolve this dilemma. Previously, presidents of both parties shared a broad understanding of U.S. interests in the region, including a consensus that those interests were vital to the country—worth putting American lives and resources on the line to forge peace and, when necessary, wage war.

Today, however, with U.S. troops still in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan and tensions high over Iran, Americans remain war-weary. Yet we seem incapable of mustering a consensus or pursuing a consistent policy in the Middle East. And there’s a good reason for that, one that’s been hard for many in the American foreign-policy establishment, including me, to accept: Few vital interests of the U.S. continue to be at stake in the Middle East. The challenge now, both politically and diplomatically, is to draw the necessary conclusions from that stark fact.

You can read the full article here

Roll With It

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While we mostly all do our best to remain healthy and deal with change, sometimes things overwhelm us.

That is why I was drawn to Jane Brody’s recent piece: When Life Throws You Curveballs, Embrace the ‘New Normal.’ Here is how she begins:

Just when I needed it most, I learned a valuable life lesson from Lynda Wolters, who has a cancer that is currently incurable, diagnosed just after her 49th birthday. As an Idaho farm girl used to hard work, Ms. Wolters led a healthy life, enjoying ballroom dancing, horseback riding, rafting and hiking when not at work at a law firm. Then, as she wrote in her recently published book, “Voices of Cancer”:

“Everything changes with cancer — everything. Life will never be the same again, even on the smallest of levels, something will be forever different. There is no going back to who you once were, so embrace it and grow from it and with it. Find the new you in your new space and make it wonderful.”

I’ve long been a stubbornly independent do-it-yourself person who rails against any infirmity that gets in the way of my usual activities. For jobs I think I should be able to do myself, I typically resist asking for help. But in reading this book, I finally understand the importance of accepting and adjusting to a “new normal” now that my aging, arthritic body rebels against activities I once did with ease. Like sweeping and bagging the leaves around my house, tending my garden, preparing a meal for company, hosting house guests, walking several miles, even visiting a museum for more than an hour.

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

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

Are We Ready?

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Most articles in the media that talk about the U.S. military focus on either on combat deaths (important reporting), family homecomings or major, high-tech weapons systems.

When the public hears about the military budget, the reporting usually focuses on major weapons systems: ships, fighter jets and the like.

That is why I found a recent article, “Trump Says the U.S. Is Ready for War. Not All His Troops Are So Sure,” so compelling. It focuses on readiness…and it paints a dire picture.

Here is a short excerpt:

If forced to fight in the Persian Gulf or the Korean Peninsula, the Navy and Marine Corps are likely to play crucial roles in holding strategic command of the sea and defending against ballistic missiles.

Those branches, though, do not need billions of dollars of new weapons, our examination revealed. They need to focus on the basics: their service members, their training and their equipment.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress’s watchdog, has been sounding the alarm for years, to little effect. In 2016, the G.A.O. found that years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan had taken their toll: “The military services have reported persistently low readiness levels.”

You can read the full article here

What Makes Someone “The Best”

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With the Australian Open in full swing this week, even with the dreadful fires that are sweeping the continent, much of the attention is on young phenom such as Coco Gauff.

But this year, at the Australian Open, as well as at tennis’ three other “majors” (French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open) there is much attention on the men’s side.

Three players are vying for the title of “world’s greatest” tennis player. The unit of measure in this chase is number of majors won.

Roger Federer is the current leader, but other, younger players are catching up.

Full disclosure, I am a Federer fan. That’s why I was struck by a recent piece, “Roger Federer Will Always Be the Greatest (Even if He’s Not).”

Here is a short excerpt that likely tells you everything you need to know about Roger:

“But there are certain things that the numbers can’t convey. They won’t show that Federer played tennis more beautifully than it has ever been played, or that during his career he was the world’s most adored athlete, revered for the elegance of his game and his graciousness on and off the court. Without intending to downplay the significance of wins and losses and Grand Slam titles, those aspects of his legacy will ultimately matter more and prove to be more enduring.”

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

Little Women

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Most of us who write spend some time analyzing the work of successful writers, looking for tactics, techniques and procedures to up our game.

The release of the highly successful movie, Little Women, has drawn new – and useful – attention to Louisa May Alcott’s book.

I read the book decades ago, and enjoyed the movie, and that is why I gravitated to a recent piece, ‘Jo Was Everything I Wanted to Be’: 5 Writers on ‘Little Women.’

The subtitle is useful: “Julia Alvarez, Virginia Kantra, Anna Quindlen, Sonia Sanchez and Jennifer Weiner talk about how the book, now a hit movie, inspired them.”

I’ll bet if you read there short analytical pieces it will help you up your game as well!

Want to read these five excellent commentaries? 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

Living Smarter

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I often think that if I read all of Tim Herrera’s “Smarter Living” articles in the New York Times and did only half the things he suggested, I’d live to be 100 and be the happiest human on earth.

He hit it out of the park with his most recent missive 9 Delightful Tips for Living a Smarter Life in 2020. He emphasizes that these are all SMALL things that have IMPACTS. Here’s how he begins:

Readers of the Smarter Living newsletter know that its third section is quietly one of the best resources for small ideas that can have a huge impact.

Each week, I invite some of my favorite writers to give easy-to-do tips on everything from getting in your daily veggies to knowing whether you should mix business and friendship.

Below are the nine tips that completely blew my mind this year. Some are so obvious you’ll kick yourself for not already doing them, and others are so weird you just have to try them.

Want to see what these are? You can read the rest of the piece here