Being “Good”

20purposeSUB-blog427

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.

News You Can Use

Writing Techniques

While I’ve written op-eds for various newspapers, with novels and non-fiction books in work as well as a slew of articles for various journals and magazines, op-eds aren’t my current focus.

That’s why I ALMOST glossed over and didn’t read Bret Stephens recent New York Times op-ed, “Tips for Aspiring Op-Ed Writers.” Had I missed his piece I’d have missed a gem.

Here is just a small part of what he shared in his fifteen tips. From my point of view, they’re invaluable for any kind of writing.

“A wise editor once observed that the easiest decision a reader can make is to stop reading. This means that every sentence has to count in grabbing the reader’s attention, starting with the first. Get to the point: Why does your topic matter? Why should it matter today? And why should the reader care what you, of all people, have to say about it?”

You can read this entire op-ed full of “news you can use” here.

Good News!

02kristof1-master768

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.

Technology Rules

1000px-Google_2015_logo.svg

Last week, I posted a blog regarding how much the big technology companies – Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and others – work to dominate our lives in ways in which we are often dimly aware. More and more, most agree that they are largely succeeding, though the tech companies would counter that they are just delivering “goodness.”

That’s why I was intrigued by the title of a recent article: “I invested early in Google and Facebook. Now They Terrify Me.” Here’s a short excerpt:

I invested in Google and Facebook years before their first revenue and profited enormously. I was an early adviser to Facebook’s team, but I am terrified by the damage being done by these Internet monopolies.

Technology has transformed our lives in countless ways, mostly for the better. Thanks to the now ubiquitous smartphone, tech touches us from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep. While the convenience of smartphones has many benefits, the unintended consequences of well-intentioned product choices have become a menace to public health and to democracy.

The people at Facebook and Google believe that giving consumers more of what they want and like is worthy of praise, not criticism. What they fail to recognize is that their products are not making consumers happier or more successful. Like gambling, nicotine, alcohol or heroin, Facebook and Google — most importantly through its YouTube subsidiary — produce short-term happiness with serious negative consequences in the long term. Users fail to recognize the warning signs of addiction until it is too late. There are only 24 hours in a day, and technology companies are making a play for all them. The CEO of Netflix recently noted that his company’s primary competitor is sleep.

Intrigued? You can read the entire article here.

Media Blending

30fruitninja1-articleLarge

Most would agree that most media is blending and even merging.

While there were once clear, bright lines between books, TV shows, video games, podcasts and other media, now these seem to be blending and the lines are increasingly opaque.

This trend seems to be accelerating, and after reading two New York Times articles, “‘Minecraft: The Island’ Blurs the Line Between Fiction and Gaming,” and “How to Make a Movie Out of Anything — Even a Mindless Phone Game” I’m convinced this acceleration may be becoming exponential. Just to whet your appetite:

From “‘Minecraft: The Island’ Blurs the Line Between Fiction and Gaming:”

The protagonist of Max Brooks’s new fantasy novel doesn’t have a name, a gender or even normal human appendages. Instead of hands, the narrator has clumsy, flesh-toned cubes, just one more weird feature of the strange and unsettling world where the story unfolds, where everything — the sun, clouds, cows, mushrooms, watermelons — is composed of squares.

For the uninitiated, the setting may seem bizarre and disorienting, but Mr. Brooks isn’t writing for novices or lay readers. He’s writing for a very particular tribe: die-hard devotees of the video game Minecraft.

From “How to Make a Movie Out of Anything — Even a Mindless Phone Game:”

The trend toward intellectual property.-¬based movies has been profound. In 1996, of the top 20 grossing films, nine were live-¬action movies based on wholly original screenplays. In 2016, just one of the top 20 grossing movies, ‘‘La La Land,’’ fit that bill. Just about everything else was part of the Marvel universe or the DC Comics universe or the ‘‘Harry Potter’’ universe or the ‘‘Star Wars’’ universe or the ‘‘Star Trek’’ universe or the fifth Jason Bourne film or the third ‘‘Kung Fu Panda’’ or a super-¬high-¬tech remake of ‘‘Jungle Book.’’ Just outside the top 20, there was a remake of ‘‘Ghostbusters’’ and yet another version of ‘‘Tarzan.’’

You can read both articles here, and here.

Whither the United States

30cohen-master768

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.

Tech Bubble?

06sharma-master768

Much has been written about technology, and especially how technology has changed our lives, mostly for the better. Lately, more ink has been spread about how much the big technology companies – Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and others – work to dominate our lives in ways in which we are often dimly aware.

Often lost in this near-breathless reporting is the long-term health of these companies. On the surface, investors whose portfolios contain a good amount of technology stocks are doing well.

That’s why I was intrigued by Ruchir Sharma’s recent piece in the New York Times, “When Will the Tech Bubble Burst?” Here is part of what Sharma shared:

Today, tech mania is resurgent. Investors are again glancing at a clock with no hands — and dismissing the risk. The profitless start-ups that were wiped out in the dot-com crash have consolidated into an oligopoly composed of leading survivors such as Google and Apple. These are giants with real earnings, yet signs of an irrational euphoria are growing.

Seven of the world’s 10 most valuable companies are in the tech sector, matching the late 1999 peak. As the American stock market keeps marching to new highs — the Dow hit 22,000 this week — the gains are increasingly concentrated in the big tech stocks. The bulls say it is inevitable that Apple will become the first trillion-dollar company.

No matter how surreal the endgame, booms tend to begin with real innovation. In the past, manias have been triggered by excitement about canals, the telegraph and the automobile. But not since the advent of railroads incited market booms in the 1830s and 1840s has the world seen back-to-back booms like the dot-com bubble of the 1990s and the one we are in now.

The dot-com era saw the rise of big companies that were building the nuts and bolts of the internet — including Dell, Microsoft, Cisco and Intel — and of start-ups that promised to tap its revolutionary potential. The current boom lacks a popular name because the innovations — from the internet of things to artificial intelligence and machine learning — are sprawling and hard to label. If there is a single thread, it is the expanding capacity to harness data, which the Alibaba founder, Jack Ma, calls the “electricity of the 21st century.”

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Writing Update

59850cdbc648a.image

It has been a busy year from a writing perspective, embarking on a number of fiction and non-fiction projects. One thing that has made the work joyful, rather than drudgery, has been a super-supportive family, as well as a community that has embraced the arts in a positive way. Read more about the City of Coronado Cultural Arts Commission here: http://coronadoarts.com/

Probably the most exciting writing adventure this year has been joining Braveship Books. A creation of writers and entrepreneurs Matt Cook and Jeff Edwards, this new publishing imprint leverages emerging technologies in printing, distribution and communications to produce books in the action adventure, thriller and sci-fi and fantasy genres. You can read more about Braveship Books here: http://braveshipbooks.com/index.php.

Braveship Books has just published my first Rick Holden Thriller, the Coronado Conspiracy in both print and e-book versions.

Recently, Coronado Eagle-Journal reporter, David Axelson, caught up with me and captured my recent writing adventures.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

No More Suffering

0813-BKS-Damasio-master315

Two weeks ago, I blogged on an article by Robert Wright, “The Meditation Cure.” Here is how he began:

Much of Buddhism can be boiled down to a bad-news/good-news story. The bad news is that life is full of suffering and we humans are full of illusions. The good news is that these two problems are actually one problem: If we could get rid of our illusions—if we could see the world clearly—our suffering would end.

Yesterday, in a review of Robert Wright’s new book, “Why Buddhism is True,” Antonio Damasio had this to say about Wright’s book, and more broadly, on whether Buddhism practices can lead to healthier individuals and communities:

My take on Wright’s fundamental proposals is as follows:

  • First, the beneficial powers of meditation come from the possibility of realizing that our emotive reactions and the consequent feelings they engender — which operate in automated fashion, outside our deliberate control — are often inappropriate and even counterproductive relative to the situations that trigger them.
  • Second, the mismatch between causes and responses is rooted in evolution. We have inherited from our nonhuman and human forerunners a complex affect apparatus suited to life circumstances very different from ours. That apparatus — which is controlled from varied sectors of our nervous systems — was created by natural selection and assisted by genetic transmission over a long period of time. It worked well for nonhuman primates and later for human hunter gatherers, but it has worked far less well as cultures became more complex.
  • Third, meditation allows us to realize that the idea of the self as director of our decisions is an illusion, and that the degree to which we are at the mercy of a weakly controlled system places us at a considerable disadvantage.
  • Fourth, the awareness brought on by meditation helps the construction of a truly enlightened humanity and counters the growing tribalism of contemporary societies.

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Military Revolt

The_Coronado_Conspiracy_Front_Cover

What happens when the nation’s most senior military leaders chafe under that country’s elected leader and want him out of office? They set in motion a spiraling chain of events that will lead to his ouster.

Sounds like something that happens in a third-world country doesn’t it? Only it isn’t there, it’s here, in the United States. It’s Seven Days in May on steroids. It’s Clear and Present Danger meets No Way Out.

Just released by Braveship Books, The Coronado Conspiracy is here with a vengeance. There is a conspiracy at the very heart of the American government. And bringing down the President of the United States is only the first step.

Here is what P.T. Deutermann, had to say: “A high speed, action-packed naval thriller that delivers a fascinating look at some coiling devils who get loose in a maze of military intrigue. A fun read.”

And here is what by Dick Couch had to say: “A modern naval adventure against a very real and present danger. Galdorisi commands comfortably from the onset of hostilities and through the twists and turns of this thrilling narrative.”