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

Trusting AI

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Few technologies inspire more controversy than artificial intelligence. Some hail it as a savior, others predict it will spell our doom.

That’s why I was drawn to a recent op-ed, “Build AI we can trust.” Here’s how the two writers begin:

Artificial intelligence has a trust problem. We are relying on A.I. more and more, but it hasn’t yet earned our confidence.

Tesla cars driving in Autopilot mode, for example, have a troubling history of crashing into stopped vehicles. Amazon’s facial recognition system works great much of the time, but when asked to compare the faces of all 535 members of Congress with 25,000 public arrest photos, it found 28 matches, when in reality there were none. A computer program designed to vet job applicants for Amazon was discovered to systematically discriminate against women. Every month new weaknesses in A.I. are uncovered.

The problem is not that today’s A.I. needs to get better at what it does. The problem is that today’s A.I. needs to try to do something completely different.

In particular, we need to stop building computer systems that merely get better and better at detecting statistical patterns in data sets — often using an approach known as deep learning — and start building computer systems that from the moment of their assembly innately grasp three basic concepts: time, space and causality.

Today’s A.I. systems know surprisingly little about any of these concepts. Take the idea of time. We recently searched on Google for “Did George Washington own a computer?” — a query whose answer requires relating two basic facts (when Washington lived, when the computer was invented) in a single temporal framework. None of Google’s first 10 search results gave the correct answer. The results didn’t even really address the question. The highest-ranked link was to a news story in The Guardian about a computerized portrait of Martha Washington as she might have looked as a young woman.

Check out this link to read more

Leading Technology

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Much ink has been spilled regarding the challenges the United States faces in our military technology race with potential adversaries like China and Russia.

One of the best analysts regarding this issue is Mackenzie Eaglen. Here is part of what she said in a receipt op-ed:

In the global arms race, a moment’s hesitation is enough to lose your lead. The Pentagon pioneered research 15 years ago into hypersonic missiles that can cruise at Mach 5. The U.S. then chose not to develop the technology—but China and Russia developed it. Now Beijing and Moscow have hypersonics at the ready and, according to Pentagon research chief Michael D. Griffin, no number of current U.S. ships or ground-based antimissile systems would be enough to counter a massive attack.

The problem stems in part from the Pentagon’s increasing dependence on outside firms. For decades after World War II, the Defense Department was a producer of cutting-edge research and technology, but today it contracts more and more out to Silicon Valley. No longer setting its own course for development, the Pentagon is unable to take the major leaps that once kept U.S. military technology racing ahead.

The Pentagon still acquires its systems in accordance with decades-old protocols that value compliance over nimbleness and usefulness. It has doubled down on unreasonable demands to own intellectual property in perpetuity, a nonstarter for many software companies with which it contracts. Now defense leaders are stuck having to sort out which software systems might pose a security risk because the developers often also sell to America’s rivals.

This shift from calling the shots to negotiating with ever-more-private interests is new for the defense bureaucracy. For generations, influence flowed in the other direction. The buildup in defense research-and-development spending that began in the late 1940s and continued through the ’80s was responsible for propelling many of the tech breakthroughs of the past century: cellphones, jet engines, integrated circuits, weather satellites and the Global Positioning System. A recent example is Apple ’s Siri artificial-intelligence system, which it purchased from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

You can read the full article here

Happiness

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Who doesn’t want to be happy? Even those of us who count ourselves as generally happy seem to always be looking for more.

That’s why I was drawn to a piece by Richard Friedman, “A Swimmer’s Guide to Happiness.” Here is part of what he shares:

Research shows that thinking too much about how to be happy actually backfires and undermines well-being. This is in part because all that thinking consumes a fair amount of time, and is not itself enjoyable.

The researchers behind this study, called “Vanishing Time in the Pursuit of Happiness,” randomly assigned subjects to one of two tasks: One group was asked to write down 10 things that could make them become happier, while the other wrote 10 things that demonstrated that they were already happy.

The subjects were then asked to what extent they felt time was slipping away and how happy they felt at that moment. Those prompted to think about how they could become happier felt more pressed for time and significantly less happy.

This jibes with the argument the journalist Ruth Whippman makes in her 2016 book “America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks.” Trying too hard to be happy — downloading mindfulness apps, taking yoga classes, reading self-help books — mostly just stresses us out, she writes. So what should we do instead? Maybe simply hang out with some friends, doing something we like to do together: “Study after study shows that good social relationships are the strongest, most consistent predictor there is of a happy life.”

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