China!

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An enormous amount of ink has been spilled regarding China and especially China’s rise. I have blogged about China frequently on this site, most recently, earlier this month, here.

When I saw David Brook’s recent Op-Ed, “How China Brings Us Together,” I wasn’t prepared for his subtitle: “An existential threat for the 21st century.”

It got my attention – and it should get yours. Here’s how he begins:

I’ve always thought Americans would come together when we realized that we faced a dangerous foreign foe. And lo and behold, now we have one: China. It’s become increasingly clear that China is a grave economic, technological and intellectual threat to the United States and the world order.

And sure enough, beneath the TV bluster of daily politics, Americans are beginning to join together. Mike Pence and Elizabeth Warren can sound shockingly similar when talking about China’s economic policy. Nancy Pelosi and Republicans sound shockingly similar when they talk about Chinese human rights abuses. Conservative and liberal policy thinkers can sound shockingly similar when they start talking about how to respond to the challenge from China.

For the past few decades, China has appeared to be a net positive force in world affairs. Sure, Beijing violated trade agreements and escalated regional tensions. But the Chinese economic explosion lowered our cost of living and expanded prosperity worldwide.

But a few things have now changed. First, instead of liberalizing, the Chinese regime has become more aggressive and repressive. This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

Climate Panic

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Climate change! Some have called it an existential threat to humanity. Others have denied its existence.

If one thing is true it’s that the arguments about climate change have become increasingly shrill and that it is increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction.

That’s why I found Davis Wallace-Wells recent, short article on the subject so refreshing. He explains the “why” behind our inability to take on this challenge in especially compelling terms. Here is how he begins:

The age of climate panic is here. Last summer, a heat wave baked the entire Northern Hemisphere, killing dozens from Quebec to Japan. Some of the most destructive wildfires in California history turned more than a million acres to ash, along the way melting the tires and the sneakers of those trying to escape the flames. Pacific hurricanes forced three million people in China to flee and wiped away almost all of Hawaii’s East Island.

We are living today in a world that has warmed by just one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 1800s, when records began on a global scale. We are adding planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at a rate faster than at any point in human history since the beginning of industrialization.

In October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released what has become known as its “Doomsday” report — “a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen,” as one United Nations official described it — detailing climate effects at 1.5 and two degrees Celsius of warming (2.7 and 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). At the opening of a major United Nations conference two months later, David Attenborough, the mellifluous voice of the BBC’s “Planet Earth” and now an environmental conscience for the English-speaking world, put it even more bleakly: “If we don’t take action,” he said, “the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

Scientists have felt this way for a while. But they have not often talked like it. For decades, there were few things with a worse reputation than “alarmism” among those studying climate change. This is a bit strange. You don’t typically hear from public health experts about the need for circumspection in describing the risks of carcinogens, for instance. The climatologist James Hansen, who testified before Congress about global warming in 1988, has called the phenomenon “scientific reticence” and chastised his colleagues for it — for editing their own observations so conscientiously that they failed to communicate how dire the threat actually was. Want more? You can read the full article here

Go Greek!

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Can you stand one more “self-help” book? Most of us can’t, so I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when I read a review of, “Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life.

The review was great. The book was better. This blog would be pages long if I told you all about the book, so please enjoy a few paragraphs from the review. Here’s how it begins:

Three years ago, New Year’s came and I promised to eat only organic. I lasted two weeks. A year ago, I resolved to run before dawn and take a cold shower every morning. That lasted two days. This year, I don’t have a resolution. Instead I read Edith Hall’s “Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life,” and concluded I probably didn’t have to undergo some painful — and therefore temporary — transformation to remake my life. I just had to put some sustained effort into being properly happy.

There is a pernicious, but widely held, belief that turning over a new leaf always involves turning our worlds upside down, that living a happy, well-adjusted life entails acts of monkish discipline or heroic strength. The genre of self-help lives and dies on this fanaticism: We should eat like cave men, scale distant mountains, ingest live charcoal, walk across scalding stones, lift oversize tires, do yoga in a hothouse, run a marathon, run another. In our culture, virtuous moderation and prudence rarely sell but, taking her cues from Aristotle, Hall offers a set of reasons to explain why they should.

Hall’s new book clears a rare middle way for her reader to pursue happiness, what the ancient Greeks called eudaimonia, usually translated as well-being or prosperity. This prosperity has nothing to do with the modern obsession with material success but rather “finding a purpose in order to realize your potential and working on your behavior to become the best version of yourself.” It sounds platitudinous enough, but it isn’t, thanks to Hall’s tight yet modest prose.

“Aristotle’s Way” carefully charts the arc of a virtuous life that springs from youthful talent, grows by way of responsible decisions and self-reflection, finds expression in mature relationships, and comes to rest in joyful retirement and a quietly reverent death. Easier said than done, but Aristotle, Hall explains, is there to help. This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

2018 – Good. Really?

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We’re now over a month into 2019, we’ve kept some and likely broken most New Year’s resolutions, and 2018 has faded from our view. Not so fast.

Tired of hearing how the world is going to hell in a hand basket? According to Nicholas Kristof it isn’t. In fact, he uses compelling stats to suggest 2018 was the best year ever. Here’s how he began a recent op-ed:

The world is, as everyone knows, going to hell, but there’s still the nervous thrill of waiting to see precisely which dark force will take us down. Will the economy collapse first, the ice sheets melt first, or chaos and war envelop us first?

So here’s my antidote to that gloom: Let me try to make the case that 2018 was actually the best year in human history.

Each day on average, about another 295,000 people around the world gained access to electricity for the first time, according to Max Roser of Oxford University and his Our World in Data website. Every day, another 305,000 were able to access clean drinking water for the first time. And each day an additional 620,000 people were able to get online for the first time.

Never before has such a large portion of humanity been literate, enjoyed a middle-class cushion, lived such long lives, had access to family planning or been confident that their children would survive. Let’s hit pause on our fears and frustrations and share a nanosecond of celebration at this backdrop of progress. Want more? You can read the full article here

Be Kind

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I recently took a great course on mindfulness meditation. In the last one of the 24-lesson video, the instructor suggested that the best way to sum up his 12 hours of instruction was to suggest that the world would be a better place if we all were just a bit kinder to each other.

That’s why I was stuck by David Brooks’ recent op-ed, “Kindness is a Skill.” While we all might have the intention of being kinder, we all could use some help in doing so. Here’s how he began:

I went into journalism to cover politics, but now I find myself in national marriage therapy.

Covering American life is like covering one of those traumatizing Eugene O’Neill plays about a family where everyone screams at each other all night and then when dawn breaks you get to leave the theater.

But don’t despair, I’m here to help. I’ve been searching for practical tips on how we can be less beastly to one another, especially when we’re negotiating disagreements. I’ve found some excellent guides — like “Negotiating the Nonnegotiable” by Daniel Shapiro, “The Rough Patch” by Daphne de Marneffe and “The Art of Gathering” by Priya Parker — and I’ve compiled some, I hope, not entirely useless tips.

He offers 14 tips. Here is my favorite: The best icebreaker to start such a gathering, have all participants go around the room and describe how they got their names. That gets them talking about their family, puts them in a long-term frame of mind and illustrates that most people share the same essential values.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Markets!

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Suddenly economic populism is all the rage. In his now famous monologue on Fox News, Tucker Carlson argued that American elites are using ruthless market forces to enrich themselves and immiserate everyone else. On the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are telling left-wing versions of the same story.

In an era of tribal emotionalism, you’re always going to be able to make a splash reducing a complex problem to a simple narrative that separates the world into the virtuous us, and the evil them (the bankers). But I’d tell a third story about our current plight, which is neither economic populism nor free-market fundamentalism.

My story begins in the 1970s. The economy was sick. Corporations were bloated. Unions got greedy. Tax rates were too high and regulations were too tight. We needed to restore economic dynamism.

So in 1978, Jimmy Carter signed a tax bill that reduced individual and corporate tax rates. Senator Ted Kennedy led the effort to deregulate the airline and trucking industries. When he came into office, Ronald Reagan took it up another notch.

It basically worked. We’ve had four long economic booms since then. But there was an interesting cultural shift that happened along the way. In a healthy society, people try to balance a whole bunch of different priorities: economic, social, moral, familial. Somehow over the past 40 years economic priorities took the top spot and obliterated everything else. As a matter of policy, we privileged economics and then eventually no longer could even see that there could be other priorities.

For example, there’s been a striking shift in how corporations see themselves. In normal times, corporations serve a lot of stakeholders — customers, employees, the towns in which they are located. But these days corporations see themselves as serving one purpose and one stakeholder — maximizing shareholder value. Activist investors demand that every company ruthlessly cut the cost of its employees and ruthlessly screw its hometown if it will raise the short-term stock price. Want more? You can read the full article here

Rut Cure

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Ever been in a rut? I know I have. It happens to all of us. You lose your motivation and just get stuck. Most of us usually climb out – but if often takes longer than we like.

That’s why I was taken by a short piece entitled, “How to Stay Motivated When You’re in a Rut.” Here’s how it began:

It’s few weeks after the holidays, and we’re all feeling the same thing: “It’s been Saturday for about 3 days and thus, I’m not prepared for Monday.”

But that’s O.K.! Whether holiday-induced or not, the occasional sluggishness of having to put in effort at work when you’re not feeling it is a perfectly natural part of having a job, like feeling burnout or feeling stalled in your career. No one bats 1.000, and no one is motivated every workday of the year.

The situation isn’t hopeless, though, and don’t write off today as a loss. Even if you’re not feeling 100 percent, there are ways to structure your day today — or any day you’re feeling a lack of motivation — to maximize your productivity. (Or, at least, minimize your losses.)

Want more? You can read the full article here

Bouncing Back

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Does this sound familiar: You’re at work, or undertaking an important home project? Everything starts off on track, “stuff” happens and it all unravels, sometimes disastrously.

The ability to roll with the punches, bounce back, and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat is often labeled “resiliency.” I suspect most of us would like to be more resilient. I know I would.

That’s why I was drawn to a recent article, “How to Be More Resilient.” It offered some great tips. Here’s how it began:

I’ve long wondered why some people get ill in the face of stress and adversity — either mentally or physically — while others rarely succumb.

We know, for example, that not everyone gets PTSD after exposure to extreme trauma, while some people get disabling depression with minimal or no stress. Likewise, we know that chronic stress can contribute to physical conditions like heart disease and stroke in some people, while others emerge unscathed. What makes people resilient, and is it something they are born with or can it be acquired later in life?

New research suggests that one possible answer can be found in the brain’s so-called central executive network, which helps regulate emotions, thinking and behavior. In a study published last month, Gregory Miller, a psychologist at Northwestern University, and colleagues there and elsewhere used M.R.I. to study the brains of a racially diverse group of 218 people, ages 12 to 14, living in violent neighborhoods in Chicago. They reported that the youths who had higher levels of functional connectivity in the central executive network had better cardiac and metabolic health than their peers with lower levels of connectivity.

What Dr. Miller and his colleagues discovered was that when neighborhood homicide rates went up, the young people’s cardiometabolic risk — as measured by obesity, blood-pressure and insulin levels, among other variables — also increased, but only in youths who showed lower activity in this brain network. This was true even when the researchers controlled for other factors, like psychological distress, economic status, race or ethnicity. No link was found between brain connectivity and cardiometabolic health for youths in neighborhoods with low levels of violence.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Timefulness

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Like an increasing number of people, I find mindfulness meditation is a great way to live in the moment, stop reliving the past and stop being anxious about the future.

That’s why I was taken by a book review of a new book, “Timefulness,” which has as its central argument that,

With mindfulness, the goal is to focus on the present. With timefulness, it’s to see the present as a tiny detail in a complex grand sum. Here is how the piece begins:

At midnight, the glittering crystal ball will drop in Times Square. Revelers around the world will straggle home, nod off, and greet the new year with a dullness caused by sleep deprivation, overstimulation and inebriation. This behavior suggests that we give higher priority to the final few hours of the past than the first few hours of the future—perhaps because endings are more concrete than beginnings, and regrets sharper than resolutions.

Geologists don’t think this way, particularly Marcia Bjornerud, author of “Timefulness,” a profound meditation on the richness, depth and entanglements of geologic time. Her brief book on a big subject puts the ball drop in proper perspective by reminding us that the Gregorian calendar is anachronistic and by elegantly condensing the landmark tomes of geology, from James Hutton’s “Theory of the Earth” (1788) to John McPhee’s “Annals of the Former World” (1998).

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Work-Life Balance

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This is the time of year for New Year’s resolutions, and since the majority of adult Americans work, many of us make promises about work, mainly to be calm and not frazzled.

That’s why a piece, “4 Reasons We’re Frazzled at Work,” caught my eye. As I read the article, I found myself saying, “So that’s why!” Here’s how the writer began:

Your better mind knows exactly how to manage your time better at work but a primal, seemingly uncontrollable urge to do the opposite overtakes you.

You know you should say no when you’re asked to take on that new project, but you say yes. Or you know your boss said your report was good enough, but you work until midnight perfecting it. Or you’re just stuck — wanting to do better but unsure that trying will help — so you do nothing.

If you are frustrated with your seemingly irrational behavior, the root issue may be deep subconscious programming known as your “attachment style.” Your attachment style dictates how you relate to other people, particularly in situations that trigger stress.

The good news is that many work places are providing on-site yoga classes for their employees. Here’s how a recent piece put it:

I have always been a type-A person — I like structure, planning and efficiency — and while that has certainly helped me get a lot done, it has also sometimes pushed me to do things too quickly, to be impatient and to miss opportunities to learn through listening.

Yoga has been the counter to that motor — even when I am upside-down in a headstand. The practice of yoga involves breathing, meditation and postures, sometimes physically challenging ones and sometimes poses that are challenging in their simplicity — like just being still. I have been practicing yoga for nearly two decades, after being drawn to the physical comfort the stretches brought me as a teenager, and completed my 200-hour teaching training in 2011. In recent years, I have brought that practice to The New York Times, where I have worked for over four years and am now a director of communications.

This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full articles here and here.