Work = Love?

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One of the things that bind most humans together is that they work. It’s in our DNA and part of our survival instincts – and it also pays the rent.

There have been days when work has been less-than-uplifting that I’ve had to remind myself, “That’s why they call it a J.O.B.”

And that is why I was drawn to Tim Herrera’s great piece, “Learning to Love Your Job.” Here’s how he begins:

Do you like what you do?

Now, I don’t mean that in the broad sense of wondering whether you’re on the right career path. I mean on a day-to-day basis, if you thought about every single task your job entails, could you name the parts that give you genuine joy? What about the tasks you hate?

It’s an odd question. We don’t often step back to ask whether the small, individual components of our job actually make us happy.

But maybe we should. As many as a third of United States workers say they don’t feel engaged at work. The reasons vary widely, and everyone’s relationship with work is unique. But there are small ways to improve any job, and those incremental improvements can add up to major increases in job satisfaction.

A study from the Mayo Clinic found that physicians who spend about 20 percent of their time doing “work they find most meaningful are at dramatically lower risk for burnout.” But here’s what’s fascinating: Anything beyond that 20 percent has a marginal impact, as “spending 50 percent of your time in the most meaningful area is associated with similar rates of burnout as 20 percent.”

In other words: You don’t need to change everything about your job to see substantial benefits. A few changes here and there can be all you need.

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

Rewrite?

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Most of us who have written for a while know the inestimable value of a good editor. The challenge us, they sometimes infuriate us, but for me, they are mostly right.

I’ve been blessed with fabulous editors over the years who worked hard at the often herculean task of helping make my writing sing, not just sit there on the pages and muddle.

But I’ve always been challenged to articulate exactly WHAT these great editors have done, and let others into the tent to examine how they did what they did.

That’s why I was delighted to read Ruth Reichl’s recent piece where the Gourmet editor remembers editor Susan Kamil, who died last month.

The headline of the article is:  ‘I Think You Need to Rewrite It’: Ruth Reichl on What Makes an Editor Great. Here is how she begins:

Halfway through my last memoir, my editor, Susan Kamil, said, “Maybe you should just move on. This isn’t working.”

I threw the phone across the room. I’d been working on the book for a couple of years, sending drafts back and forth to Susan. “I’m sorry,” she continued, “it’s good, but if you’re not willing to go deeper, there’s just no point.”

Susan Kamil never let you off the hook.

When Susan died on September 8, there was an outpouring of grief from the entire publishing community. Susan was the most lovable person: enormously generous, endlessly kind, crazy for cats and great fun to be with. Always dressed in bluejeans and sneakers, she was one of the few women who was equally adored by both men and women. A gifted publisher, she was also a wonderful boss. But above all, Susan was an editor.

Susan didn’t just read your manuscript and offer suggestions; she became your collaborator, your partner. With Susan, a book was an ongoing conversation, and she filled every page of every manuscript with questions, suggestions, comments. The process never ended: She kept fretting over the words until the book went to press. She couldn’t help herself. In Susan’s mind a book was never really finished, and I suspect she found it impossible to read even the dustiest, most ancient tome without a pencil in her hand.

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

Tech and Defense

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I served in the U.S. military at a time when we were in a technological arms race with the Soviet Union. Back then, the Department of Defense was THE leader of technological development.

That is no longer the case. It is now widely recognized that large technology companies—represented most prominently by the so-called “FAANG Five” (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet’s Google)—are dominating the development of technology.

I work in a U.S. Navy laboratory where we work to harness these kind of technologies to put better tools in the hands of America’s service men and women. We recognize that it is not just hardware – planes, ships, tanks and the like – that will give our warfighters the edge – but the same kind of technologies – the software – that FAANG companies and others like them develop.

To understand where we are today and fashion a way ahead, it is worth looking at where we were “back in the day” when the Department of Defense led technology development.

That is why I was drawn to read a review of a recent book: THE CODE
Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America. Here is how the review begins:

By the early 1970s, Don Hoefler, a writer for Electronic News, was spending after-hours at his “field office” — a faux-Western tavern known as Walker’s Wagon Wheel, in Mountain View, Calif. In a town with few nightspots, this was the bar of choice for engineers from the growing number of electronic and semiconductor chip firms clustered nearby.

Hoefler had a knack for slogans, having worked as a corporate publicist. In a piece published in 1971, he christened the region — better known for its prune orchards, bland buildings and cookie-cutter subdivisions — “Silicon Valley.” The name stuck, Hoefler became a legend and the region became a metonym for the entire tech sector. Today its five largest companies have a market valuation greater than the economy of the United Kingdom.

How an otherwise unexceptional swath of suburbia came to rule the world is the central question animating “The Code,” Margaret O’Mara’s accessible yet sophisticated chronicle of Silicon Valley. An academic historian blessed with a journalist’s prose, O’Mara focuses less on the actual technology than on the people and policies that ensured its success.

She digs deep into the region’s past, highlighting the critical role of Stanford University. In the immediate postwar era, Fred Terman, an electrical engineer who became Stanford’s provost, remade the school in his own image. He elevated science and engineering disciplines, enabling the university to capture federal defense dollars that helped to fuel the Cold War.

Want more? You can read the full review here

Ordinary = Exceptional

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It’s fall, the season that, to some, is the most “ordinary” of the four. But for some of us,  it is the most memorable season, because things change in the most visible way.

That’s why I was drawn to Pico Iyer’s piece, “The Beauty of the Ordinary.” He looks at the seasons from the perspective of someone living in Japan. There, the seasons are looked upon with near-reverence – almost as a religion. Here is how he begins:

Falling in love is the easiest thing in the world. But staying in love, we all know, can be one of the hardest. How do we keep the glow, the sense of unending discovery, alive once we’ve pledged ourselves to familiarity? And how to sustain the sense of anticipation that deliciously quickened the honeymoon? Put differently, how might we be enchanted by discovery’s opposite — routine — and find in constancy a stimulation as rich as novelty provides? The story of every marriage, perhaps, is the story of what happens after the endless summer ends.

“To learn something new,” the wise explorer John Burroughs noted, “take the path that you took yesterday.” A knowing friend in New York sent me that line when he heard that I’d spent 26 years in the same anonymous suburb in western Japan, most of that time traveling no farther than my size 8 feet can carry me. I’d arrived in Kyoto, from Midtown Manhattan, just out of my 20s and alight with everything this wildly unfathomable place could teach me. I never dreamed that I’d come to find delight in everything that is everyday and seemingly without interest in my faraway neighborhood, nothing special.

Want more? You can read the full article here

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.

 

Endless War

Opinion The Only Way to End ‘Endless War’ - The New York Times

America’s longest war – Afghanistan – has been going on for almost two decades.

Ask any American if they want their nation to engage in endless wars and the answer is likely to be, “Of course not.”

But if you ask, “How can we do that?” not many people have an answer or even an idea.

As someone who has worked for the U.S. military for my entire adult life, I confess that I don’t have a cogent answer to that question.

That’s why I was drawn to a recent piece, “The Only Way to End Endless War.” Here is how it begins:

“We have got to put an end to endless war,” declared Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., during the Democratic presidential primary debate on Thursday. It was a surefire applause line: Many people consider “endless war” to be the central problem for American foreign policy.

Even President Trump, the target of Mr. Buttigieg’s attack, seems to agree. “Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he announced in his latest State of the Union.

But vowing to end America’s interminable military adventures doesn’t make it so. Four years ago, President Barack Obama denounced “the idea of endless war” even as he announced that ground troops would remain in Afghanistan. In his last year in office, the United States dropped an estimated 26,172 bombs on seven countries.

President Trump, despite criticizing Middle East wars, has intensified existing interventions and threatened to start new ones. He has abetted the Saudi-led war in Yemen, in defiance of Congress. He has put America perpetually on the brink with Iran. And he has lavished billions extra on a Pentagon that already outspends the world’s seven next largest militaries combined.

What would it mean to actually bring endless war to a close?

Like the demand to tame the 1 percent, or the insistence that black lives matter, ending endless war sounds commonsensical but its implications are transformational. It requires more than bringing ground troops home from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. American war-making will persist so long as the United States continues to seek military dominance across the globe. Dominance, assumed to ensure peace, in fact guarantees war. To get serious about stopping endless war, American leaders must do what they most resist: end America’s commitment to armed supremacy and embrace a world of pluralism and peace.

You can read the full article here

Forgiveness

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Ask most people if they are willing to forgive others transgressions, their all-but-immediate response is, “yes.”

However, many add a caveat: “but, unless…” You can fill in the rest. That’s why I was drawn to a recent piece, “Taylor Swift, Philosopher of Forgiveness.” Here’s how it begins:

Taylor Swift is on fire. She just dropped her seventh album, “Lover,” and it’s already the top seller of 2019. She also dropped some wisdom that deserves to be as widely appreciated as her music.

In an interview on Aug. 25 on “CBS Sunday Morning,” Ms. Swift spoke up about our culture’s obsession with forgiveness. “People go on and on about you have to forgive and forget to move past something,” she said. “No, you don’t.”

She’s right. You don’t have to forgive and forget to move on. And sometimes, you shouldn’t forgive or forget. You should resent.

To see why, imagine that you’ve been wronged. Let’s say Kanye West just busted up your big moment onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards. So what? Why not be Jay-Z and brush the dirt off your shoulder? The reason — as many philosophers will tell you — is that wrongdoing sends a demeaning message that shouldn’t go unchallenged.

As the philosopher Jeffrie Murphy explains, that message is typically something like “I count, but you don’t.” Or “I am here up high, and you are there down below.” Or “I can use you for my purposes.”

Another philosopher, Pamela Hieronymi, teaches that the message implicit in wrongdoing poses a threat. The threat is that the message is true, that it’s O.K. for Kanye West to ruin your big moment, because you don’t matter as much as he does.

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

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

Cyber-War

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One of the most cutting-edge military technologies is generally called “cyber.” Most people struggle with this concept and with what “cyber-warfare” actually means.

That’s why I was intrigued by a recent book review of David Sanger’s book: “THE PERFECT WEAPON: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age.” Here’s how the reviewer begins:

New technologies of destruction have appeared throughout history, from the trireme and gunpowder in past centuries to biological and nuclear weapons in more modern times. Each technology goes through a cycle of development and weaponization, followed only later by the formulation of doctrine and occasionally by efforts to control the weapon’s use. The newest technological means of mayhem are cyber, meaning anything involving the electronic transmission of ones and zeros. The development of cyber capabilities has been rapid and is continuing; doctrine is largely yet to be written; and ideas about control are only beginning to emerge.

David E. Sanger’s “The Perfect Weapon” is an encyclopedic account of policy-relevant happenings in the cyberworld. Sanger, a national security correspondent for The New York Times, stays firmly grounded in real events, including communication systems getting hacked and servers being disabled. He avoids the tendency, all too common in futuristic discussions of cyber issues, to spin out elaborate and scary hypothetical scenarios. The book flows from reporting for The Times by Sanger and his colleagues, who have had access, and volunteer informants, that lesser publications rarely enjoy. The text frequently shifts to the first-person singular, along with excerpts from interviews Sanger has had with officials up to and including the president of the United States.

The principal focus of the book is cyberwarfare — the use of techniques to sabotage the electronic or physical assets of an adversary — but its scope extends as well to other controversies that flow from advances in information technology. Sanger touches on privacy issues related to the collection of signals intelligence — a business that has been around since before Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of war, Henry Stimson, talked about gentlemen not reading each other’s mail. He also addresses social media and the problems of misuse that have bedeviled Facebook, including usage by foreign governments for political purposes. These other topics are to some extent a digression from the main topic of cyberwarfare. Intelligence collection and electronic sabotage are different phenomena, which in the United States involve very different legal principles and policy procedures. But Sanger takes note of such differences, and the book’s inclusiveness makes it useful as a one-stop reference for citizens who want to think intelligently about all issues of public policy having a cyber dimension.

You can read the full review here

Do It Now?

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We all want to get things done, right? The easy answer is, “yes, of course.” We all do what needs doing right away, right? Hmmmm…maybe not such a good answer.

We all procrastinate. I know I do, but until I read an article, “Why You Procrastinate and How to Break the Habit,” I didn’t know WHY I did. Now I do. Here’s how the article begins:

If you’ve ever put off an important task by, say, alphabetizing your spice drawer, you know it wouldn’t be fair to describe yourself as lazy.

After all, alphabetizing requires focus and effort — and hey, maybe you even went the extra mile to wipe down each bottle before putting it back. And it’s not like you’re hanging out with friends or watching Netflix. You’re cleaning — something your parents would be proud of! This isn’t laziness or bad time management. This is procrastination.

If procrastination isn’t about laziness, then what is it about?

Etymologically, “procrastination” is derived from the Latin verb procrastinare — to put off until tomorrow. But it’s more than just voluntarily delaying. Procrastination is also derived from the ancient Greek word akrasia — doing something against our better judgment.

“It’s self-harm,” said Dr. Piers Steel, a professor of motivational psychology at the University of Calgary and the author of “The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done.

That self-awareness is a key part of why procrastinating makes us feel so rotten. When we procrastinate, we’re not only aware that we’re avoiding the task in question, but also that doing so is probably a bad idea. And yet, we do it anyway.

“This is why we say that procrastination is essentially irrational,” said Dr. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield. “It doesn’t make sense to do something you know is going to have negative consequences.”

She added: “People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.”

Want more? You can read the full article here