Happiness

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Most people want to be happy. It is in our DNA. However, with a global pandemic and all that comes with it, sometimes we can use a nudge regarding what things can contribute to our happiness.

That’s why I was drawn to an article in the New York Times entitled, “Over 3 Million People Took This Course on Happiness. Here’s What Some Learned.” Here is how it began:

“It may seem simple, but it bears repeating: sleep, gratitude and helping other people.”

“Everyone knows what they need to do to protect their physical health: wash your hands, and social distance, and wear a mask,” she added. “People were struggling with what to do to protect their mental health.”

“The Coursera curriculum, adapted from the one Dr. Santos taught at Yale, asks students to, among other things, track their sleep patterns, keep a gratitude journal, perform random acts of kindness, and take note of whether, over time, these behaviors correlate with a positive change in their general mood”.

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

Looking to the Future

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National security and defense officials have begun to recognize that, while it is impossible to accurately “predict” what conflict will look like in the future, one way to avoid assuming that the next war will look precisely like the last one is to mine works of fiction. In novels, authors can spread their wings unencumbered by existing doctrine.

This fairly new phenomena has been dubbed “FICINT,” as it combines fiction writing with current intelligence to envision future warfare. This writing is strongly grounded in reality and not fantasy and that is what makes it so valuable.

While anyone can write FICINT, periodically, one or more writers with the strongest possible “street creds” produce a work of fiction that imagines war in the future. 2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis is one such work – and one that was recently highlighted in the New York Times Book Review “Shortlist.” Here is an excerpt:

This fast-paced military thriller details the horrifying aftermath of a mistaken encounter between an American naval patrol and a potent Chinese weapon. The weapon’s power — to destroy all computers on board the American ships, rendering them utterly isolated — works as a kind of metonymy for the book’s argument about America’s waning global influence. The military’s isolation finds a twin in the novel’s political problem, in which American operators must reimagine their allies not as helpers to boost their might but as saviors.

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

A More Contested World

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Every four years, the National Intelligence Council, the public-facing arm of the Director of National Intelligence Council and the 16 intelligence agencies under her stewardship, issues its Global Trends report, looking far into the future to determine what threats the United States will need to deal with years hence.

The just-released Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World is the seventh such report issued by the NIC. It differs from previous reports in many ways, most notably in that it addresses the still-evolving changes wrought by the current global pandemic and, while it does talk about traditional warfare, it has a strong focus on social issues. Here is how a report in the New York Times begins:

U.S. intelligence officials warned in a report issued on Thursday about the potential fragmentation of society and the global order, holding out the possibility of a world where international trade is disrupted, groups of countries create online enclaves and civic cohesion is undermined.

The report, compiled every four years by the National Intelligence Council, mixes more traditional national security challenges like the potentially disruptive rise of China with social trends that have clear security implications, like the internet’s tendency to exacerbate political and cultural divisions.

A previous version of the report, released by the Obama administration in 2017, highlighted the risk of a pandemic and the vast economic disruption it could cause — a prescient prediction in hindsight.

The new report said that the coronavirus pandemic showed the weakness of the world order and that the institutions devised to face past crises are inadequate to coordinate a global response to new challenges like the spread of Covid-19. The failure of those institutions deepened public dissatisfaction and further eroded faith in the old order, the report said.

Want more?

Here is a link to the NYT article

And here is a link to the National Intelligence Council Report

 

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