Economy Booming?

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Do you feel confused about the economy and whether we are in a boom or bust? It is likely that you do, as there is vastly more heat than light regarding where the economy is going. Depending on what news media you pick and when you engage, you might see unbridled optimism or impending doom.

That’s why I was drawn to an article entitled: “17 Reasons to Let the Economic Optimism Begin.” While I wasn’t looking for a warm fuzzy or a security blanket, this piece did tease out the reasons that the trend lines (trends – not guarantees) are heading in the right direction. Don’t plan that Paris vacation yet, but lean into living life again. Here is how it begins:

But strange as it may seem in this time of pandemic, I’m starting to get optimistic. It’s an odd feeling, because so many people are suffering — and because for so much of my career, a gloomy outlook has been the correct one.

Predictions are a hard business, of course, and much could go wrong that makes the decades ahead as bad as, or worse than, the recent past. But this optimism is not just about the details of the new pandemic relief legislation or the politics of the moment. Rather, it stems from a diagnosis of three problematic mega-trends, all related.

There is not one reason, however, to think that these negative trends have run their course. There are 17.

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

Meet me at The BookFest: Spring 2021 – April 17 & 18

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The BookFest is free to attend. Just go to the website and check out the live stream to watch panels and conversations. Sat. April 17th is dedicated to readers, and Sun. April 18th is dedicated to writers.

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords; prolific New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry; Patrick M. Oliver founder of Say it Loud!; and skeptic, author and thinker, Michael Shermer, are doing conversations during the two-day online event. These intimate one-on-one talks give attendees the opportunity to learn more about each individual, and to take a deep dive into the topics discussed.

Delivering the opening keynote for The BookFest Spring 2021 is author of the #1 Amazon bestseller The Art of Hybrid Timber Framing, Bert Sarkkinen. As the founder of Arrow Timber, Sarkkinen takes attendees on a journey to find long-term happiness.

Plus, panel discussions include an array of writers, literary professionals, and experts discussing the books we read, relevant topics of our times, the art and craft of writing, and more.

Check out the Live Author Chats and the BookFest Spring Picnic Giveaway on Sat, April 17th.

On Sun, April 18th writers will get a chance to network and ask their burning questions during the Ask the Industry Experts Anything: Live Q&A for Writers of Every Level.

To stay informed on everything BookFest-related, and to get a free Virtual Gift Bag emailed to you after The BookFest Adventure, sign up for email alerts: https://www.thebookfest.com/signup/

www.TheBookFest.com

#TheBookFest #TheBookFestSpring2021

Best Sellers

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Asked the question, “Who is the most powerful person in publishing,” most would not guess correctly, but they would likely assume that it was a man – and they would be wrong. That honor goes to Madeline McIntosh, the U.S. chief executive of Penguin Random House.

I was taken by a recent article describing her accession to this position – at an atypically young age – because it did a deep dive into her career path, while also addressing the important question regarding book sales. The title of the piece, “Best Sellers Sell the Best Because They’re Best Sellers,” sums up the business side of the article.

What surprised me is that her climb was not a straight climb up the corporate ladder, but rather a series of twists and turns, zigzags and lateral moves, many of them quite risky, but all of them invaluable in preparing to lead the biggest of the big-five publishing houses. Indeed, Penguin Random House is larger than the remaining top four publishers combined!

You will find her story fascinating and enriching. Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Remembering a Justice

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The world is flooded – appropriately – with tributes to the late Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. As the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg’s pointed and powerful dissenting opinions earned her late-life rock stardom.

While there have been many detailed and thoughtful commentaries on her life, I was drawn to one in the New York Times that, for me, captured the essence of what she contributed to the Court and the Nation.

Her late-life rock stardom could not remotely have been predicted in June 1993, when President Bill Clinton nominated the soft-spoken, 60-year-old judge who prized collegiality and whose friendship with conservative colleagues on the federal appeals court where she had served for 13 years left some feminist leaders fretting privately that the president was making a mistake. Mr. Clinton chose her to succeed Justice Byron R. White, an appointee of President John F. Kennedy, who was retiring after 31 years. Her Senate confirmation seven weeks later, by a vote of 96 to 3, ended a drought in Democratic appointments to the Supreme Court that extended back to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s nomination of Thurgood Marshall 26 years earlier.

There was something fitting about that sequence because Ruth Ginsburg was occasionally described as the Thurgood Marshall of the women’s rights movement by those who remembered her days as a litigator and director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union during the 1970s.

 

Want more? You can read the full article here

Should You Write?

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Why would anyone want to write anything today longer than a tweet? Why indeed? And why labor away trying to write for a mainstream audience? Perhaps the best way to capture that is to quote my friend Norman Polmar, who is fond of saying. “History is what the historians and writers say it is.” Norman has published over forty books on naval history and most consider him the authoritative source on the subject. Someone has to write down what happens…and that becomes ground truth.

Here’s another way to look at it, and, I trust, will help you understand that writing stories isn’t some odd thing that only a few people do. In “Book People” John Sutherland put it this way, “Storytelling is as human as breathing. Literature, since it emerged 4,000 years ago, has shaped the lives of most humans on planet Earth. We are what we read.”

One of the best answers to the question, “Why Write?” comes from my friend and co-author, Dick Couch. Here’s how he put it in an article in our alumni magazine some years ago:

For me, I gotta write, and it’s the adventure of it that’s hooked me. As the writer, I can do it all. I get to be the National Security Advisor who recommends the action to the President who must commit the forces. I’m the senior officer who sends his men into action and who feels the pain if they don’t make it back. I’m the enemy and the defender; logistician and staff planner. But most of all, I’m a young man again, that fresh lieutenant who must lead his men into battle.

Some men want to die with their boots on.  When I cash in my chips, I want to be slumped over the keyboard. And they can plant me with my word processor. I may wake up and want to write about it.

Finally, we all recognize we live in a highly technical world. But that often makes us turn to data as the king of the hill. It isn’t. Here’s how Michael Lewis put it in, The Undoing Project “No one ever made a decision based on a number. They need a story.”

Want more? Check out my blog for dozens of writing tips

Kamala Harris – An American Story

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Kamala Harris’s parents, Donald Harris and Shyamala Gopalan grew up under British colonial rule on different sides of the planet. They were each drawn to Berkeley, California and became part of an intellectual circle that shaped the rest of their lives.

In this comprehensive New York Times article, it is easy to see the important forces that shaped Senator Harris’s outlook on life and led to her many successes, culminating in her recent selection as the Democratic Party’s vice-presidential candidate.

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

Dedication to a Cause

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Much ink has been spilled about the future of robots and how they will either help – or hurt – humanity. Some still fear HAL from 2001 A Space Odyssey.

That is why I was drawn to a recent piece, “A Case for Cooperation Between Machines and Humans.” The subtitle is revealing: “A computer scientist argues that the quest for fully automated robots is misguided, perhaps even dangerous. His decades of warnings are gaining more attention.” Here is how it begins:

The Tesla chief Elon Musk and other big-name Silicon Valley executives have long promised a car that can do all the driving without human assistance.

But Ben Shneiderman, a University of Maryland computer scientist who has for decades warned against blindly automating tasks with computers, thinks fully automated cars and the tech industry’s vision for a robotic future is misguided. Even dangerous. Robots should collaborate with humans, he believes, rather than replace them.

Late last year, Dr. Shneiderman embarked on a crusade to convince the artificial intelligence world that it is heading in the wrong direction. In February, he confronted organizers of an industry conference on “Assured Autonomy” in Phoenix, telling them that even the title of their conference was wrong. Instead of trying to create autonomous robots, he said, designers should focus on a new mantra, designing computerized machines that are “reliable, safe and trustworthy.”

There should be the equivalent of a flight data recorder for every robot, Dr. Shneiderman argued.

It is a warning that’s likely to gain more urgency when the world’s economies eventually emerge from the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic and millions who have lost their jobs try to return to work. A growing number of them will find they are competing with or working side by side with machines.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Big Tech and National Security

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There is little question that the United States faces two powerful peer competitors, China and Russia.

There is also no question that we cannot match these powers soldier for soldier or tank for tank. The only way we are likely to prevail is through technological innovation.

The big tech companies – not the traditional defense industry giants – are the ones who can help us achieve that goal. One person, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, is leading this effort.

A revealing article in the New York Times entitled, “‘I Could Solve Most of Your Problems’: Eric Schmidt’s Pentagon Offensive,” begins this way:

In July 2016, Raymond Thomas, a four-star general and head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, hosted a guest: Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google.

General Thomas, who served in the 1991 gulf war and deployed many times to Afghanistan, spent the better part of a day showing Mr. Schmidt around Special Operations Command’s headquarters in Tampa, Fla. They scrutinized prototypes for a robotic exoskeleton suit and joined operational briefings, which Mr. Schmidt wanted to learn more about because he had recently begun advising the military on technology.

After the visit, as they rode in a Chevy Suburban toward an airport, the conversation turned to a form of artificial intelligence.

“You absolutely suck at machine learning,” Mr. Schmidt told General Thomas, the officer recalled. “If I got under your tent for a day, I could solve most of your problems.” General Thomas said he was so offended that he wanted to throw Mr. Schmidt out of the car, but refrained.

Four years later, Mr. Schmidt, 65, has channeled his blunt assessment of the military’s tech failings into a personal campaign to revamp America’s defense forces with more engineers, more software and more A.I. In the process, the tech billionaire, who left Google last year, has reinvented himself as the prime liaison between Silicon Valley and the national security community.

Follow the link to read the full article

Great Power Competition

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The United States has entered an era of great power competition. China and Russia both present a clear and present danger to the security and prosperity of the United States. This competition plays out in multiple ways.

Much ink has been spilled about this competition, some of it good, some shrill, and much in the middle. That is why I was drawn to – and enjoyed – a recent study by CSIS: U.S. Competition with China and Russia: The Crisis-Driven Need to Change U.S. Strategy. Written by Anthony H. Cordesman, one of the sharpest minds regarding American foreign policy, here is how it begins:

The new National Security Strategy (NSS) issued on December 18, 2017, called for the United States to focus on competition with China and Russia in order to focus on the potential military threat they posed to the United States. This call to look beyond the current U.S. emphasis on counterterrorism was all too valid, but its implementation has since focused far too narrowly on the military dimension and on providing each military service all of the U.S. military forces that are needed to fight “worst-case” wars.

This focus on high levels of direct conflict with China and Russia is a fundamental misreading of the challenges the U.S. actually faces from Chinese and Russian competition as well as a misinterpretation of their strategy and capabilities. It ignores the fact that China and Russia recognize that major wars between them and the United States – and particularly any wars that escalate to the use of nuclear weapons – can end in doing so much damage to both sides that they become the equivalent of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD). They understand that the only winner in such conflicts between the great powers would be the one power that could actually find a way to stand aside from such a major nuclear exchange or from a high level of theater warfare between the other two. To quote a passage from Clausewitz’s War Games, “the only way to win is not to play.”

You can read the full report here

Focused Habits

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When things are chaotic and crazy, when the world can feel like it’s falling apart, this is when we need to create structure. Eisenhower famously said that freedom was properly defined as the opportunity for self-discipline, and so it is with disorder—it’s an opportunity to create order.

Maybe right now you’re stuck at home, maybe you’re not working. Your kids might be home with you. Certainly the normal way of doing things has been significantly altered. Well, now is the time to follow the Stoic practices more than ever, to follow the kind of routines that Marcus Aurelius followed every day (like we detail in this video) or the practice that Seneca followed with his evening journaling. Get up early. Be deliberate. Exercise. Set up and stick to a diet. Create limits and order. Clean your house. Attack problems or projects that have piled up.

Marcus said that we must concentrate like a Roman, and there is no time to do that like the present. There is not a lot of good that can come out of a global pandemic, but one positive can be that we use it as an opportunity to get our act together, to adjust and fine tune our habits while we have the time. More importantly, one of the best ways to cure anxiety, to deal with stress, and to become present is to really throw yourself into some means of self-improvement. Don’t allow yourself to be crushed by life as a whole, Marcus said; start with what’s in front of you.

Create some order today. Focus on your habits. You’ll find it does wonders.