Being Rational and Being Superstitious

Hello Again is my latest paranormal mystery/thriller. One aspect I explore is the thin veneer of rationality we coat ourselves with. Underneath, we haven’t changed that much from the primitive caveman who thought the gods were angry when he heard thunder. One character in Hello Again remarks that it was easy to believe in the paranormal living in a small eastern European village at the turn of the nineteenth century. It’s quite another to accept the paranormal as normal when living in a large American city at a time when NASA is recruiting people for a one-way trip to Mars.

Rational? How many sports fans won’t change from their lucky shirt if their team is on a winning streak. How many gamblers won’t change seats at the gaming table if they are winning? What about the number 13. How much do you feel like crossing the spirits and taking a chance?

Hello Again illustrates that it really doesn’t take much to cause people to fall back into a belief in the supernatural. While many people now say they are not religious, that doesn’t mean they don’t utter a silent prayer when waiting for the results of a lottery or when sitting in the waiting room of a hospital.

So, what would you do if you suddenly started receiving text messages from someone who you know is dead, especially if the technology experts say they can’t explain it?

 

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Making a Pact with the Devil to Become President

It’s really struck me during this long long campaign that to paraphrase a well known movie line, Americans can’t handle the truth, and they certainly don’t want to hear it. So, let’s assume we gave truth serum to the major candidates just before they spoke. What would we hear?

TRUMP: Look I’m all about myself and power. I’ll say anything you want to hear if you vote for me. I don’t have any fixed positions or policies because all I really care about is becoming President. You know my father never thought highly about me, and this will show him wherever in hell he is that I am somebody and people love me. I’m the classic schoolyard bully. I’ll stomp all over anyone who disagrees with me, and women are just here for my amusement and pleasure. When they start to age, I trade up. Vote for me. Trust me, I am whatever you want me to be. Are you a racist? Well then, listen to my coded language. Are you very afraid of minorities taking your jobs? Listen to my coded language —we’ll make America white again.

CLINTON: I know I am a lousy politician, so I try to be very careful what I say. I poll test everything to make sure the most people will approve of my policy. I’ve always wanted to be President, and Mrs. Roosevelt has always been my personal hero—- Men are pigs –Look at Bill. I realize I’m about as exciting as oatmeal, but I’m running as the first female President. I happen to have the worst luck in the world. Who would have thought the first time I ran that I’d run into the first black President. This time, I banked on my experience. I figured I’d run against Jeb Bush, and the public could listen to us have really long discussions about the merits of our wonkie ideas. I’d win because I’ve always been the smartest kid in the class. So, what do I get instead? I’m running against a comic book figure, a cartoon that struts and acts politically incorrect and brings up all Bill’s bimbos. How do you fight against someone like that?

The problem is that the Republicans have poisoned the well for me for so long that my negatives are about as bad as Trump’s. The difference is that his voters are enthusiastic and will turn out while many Democrats will hate me so much for Bernie losing that they may stay home in protest. Why can’t I have any luck?

BERNIE: Look, I’m not a fool. I know I can’t give people what I promise because we’d need to have both the Senate and the House to pull it off. I need people to keep contributing money because my campaign is burning through the money much too fast. I want to have as many delegates in my pocket as I can so we can force changes in the Democratic platform. I realize it won’t matter in the short run because Hillary won’t really push for these things. Here’s my deep down secret: I’m praying the FBI indicts Hillary BEFORE the convention. Then I get the super delegates and I become the nominee.

The one thread that runs through all these candidates’ real thoughts is that they have to give Americans what they want to hear. It’s almost like a parent who can’t bear to tell little Carol or Billy that there really is no Santa Claus. Maybe, the parent thinks, we can wait another year. After all little America is less than three hundred years old.

Personally, I think Bernie might give Trump more of a battle than Hillary because ideas that Americans once scorned as socialist or communist now don’t seem that bad. Also, his voters are as fired up as those of Trump. Would Trump smear him as “Bernie the little Jew communist”? Sure, but medicare for all is not a bad platform to run on.

No Longer the Apple of Our Eye: The Fall of Apple

I’ve been part of the PC industry since it began. Many of my friends remember me managing one of the first computer stores. I became a technology analyst and followed the industry for many years. I even wrote a college textbook on PCs as well as teaching computer science to college students. So, I do know something about PCs. I’ve not only been an Apple dealer, but I’ve owned virtually all its major computing products from the Apple II. That includes the first Macintosh, MacBooks, the iMac, iPads, etc.

So, it’s with a sad heart that I say what the financial press has already been reporting. The best years of Apple are behind it. Having said that, I have to also say that my wife and I are an Apple family. What I observed as a technology analyst was that companies that are led by visionaries and then turned over to bean counters lose their technology edge. Related closely to that truism is that once a company reaches a certain size, it struggles to maintain a decent rate of return because it continually needs new breakthrough products. To put it another way, Apple might make its products too good. They tend to last longer than PCs, and they require a lot less support. The result is that it has become harder and harder for Apple to convince its customers to upgrade. That’s true not just for its computers, but it’s also true for its iPhones.

Steve Jobs did fail on occasion, but he also had enough vision to create products people didn’t even know they’d want or need. Where is the next breakthrough Apple product coming from? Apple explored the TV marketplace, but there are technological constraints that prevent it from coming out with something that would revolutionize TV, especially since there is a movement toward decoupling cable channels and moving toward a wild west type free for all where people simply will decide on which Internet channels they want. How can you bring order to such a chaotic universe? I doubt Apple can.

Automobiles was another area Apple was exploring. Now we learn BMW is going its own way on electric cars and other major manufacturers are moving ahead in that area as is Google. Apple won’t be able to control this market because it is primarily a hardware company and it can’t mandate that everyone confirm to its standard and use its software.

I certainly lay part of the problem on Tim Cook. By all counts he’s a great guy—certainly much more human than Jobs and less likely to make his subordinates cry. He’s outspoken and apparently on the right side of all the current hot button issues from gay rights to computer privacy. But, his entire history has been as a supply chain guy, a person acknowledged as an expert in cutting costs and increasing efficiency. That’s wonderful, and every hardware company needs someone at the VP level with those skills, but it’s a forrest and not a tree CEO who is needed to give a company direction and keep it ahead of the curve.

What Jobs managed to do was to make Apple “cool.” Remember all the Apple fanboys who would line up whenever a new product was released. Now it tends to be people of my generation. The college age kids have moved on to Android products. Since Samsung has been in a long-standing battle with Apple over intellectual property rights, its no surprise that the Korean company’s products more and more resemble iPhones but cost less.

Now Apple is sitting on a lot of cash. What should it do and what is it likely to do? I suspect it will buy back some of its stock to maintain its price. I also suspect we’ll see Apple offer “new” products that offer a few new features, but that won’t be enough to maintain its leadership position. What it does need to do but probably won’t is to use some of its cash to buy new technology by acquiring some cutting edge startups. If it can’t come up with new visionary products from the CEO’s office, then it might have to do so from some of the young geniuses whose companies they buy.

The problem, of course, is that startups work quite differently from a company Apple’s size. They make decisions quickly and then create products rapidly. What happens, though, in a company Apple’s size when heads of different units compete for resources? Without someone like a Steve Jobs at the top who is capable of relying on some mysterious gut reaction to determine which product will be successful, Apple probably will rely on a bean counter who probably will create a very detailed spreadsheet that weighs the pluses and minuses of each potential new product. That might be an ideal way of narrowing a list of potential colleges to attend, but it’s no way to select the product that could make or break a giant corporation.

Apple will not disappear. It still makes solid products that its customers love. The problem is attracting new customers in sufficient numbers to meet its financial goals and satisfy the financial community. Its recent history has been to create products that cannibalize older products (Who needs an iPod now that there’s an iPhone and an iCloud?) When my generation finally rides off into the sunset, where will Apple be?

An Adventure of a Lifetime

Years ago in a universe far away I had a Fulbright professorship to Japan for a year. My wife and I and our son had adventures every single day. Just taking the trolley or subway was an adventure. If you happened to climb up the wrong subway exit, you’d fine yourself in an entirely different neighborhood than you expected.

Life went on after that year, but Jane and I never forgot how exciting it was to live in an alien environment and force ourselves out of our comfort zone. Recently we spent six weeks in Florence, Italy on a Road Scholar Living and Learning Italian in Florence program. We lived in an apartment like the natives, shopped for food and cooked like the natives, and navigated the narrow streets like the natives. Each day was an adventure. Because the narrow streets frequently changed names and because traffic came from all directions, life was very unpredictable.

We found time to wander the streets and discover many new eating experiences. Jane enjoyed gelato almost every day. We took Italian lessons (called Survival Italian) in the mornings and then had the afternoons free. The side tours included mountain towns we never would have found on our own.

Shopping in an Italian supermarket was an adventure in itself. Little did we know that customers were expected to bag and weigh and price their vegetables and fruit. Finding a specific item sometimes proved difficult. Did you know that no self-respecting Italian would eat oatmeal or eggs in the morning? My stomach never did adjust to the Italians’ schedule for eating. I need a lot more than a sweet roll in the morning, and I never wanted to eat lunch past noon or dinner after 7 pm.

I found the Italian television viewing habits interesting. While westerns have pretty much died in our country, they still have an audience in Italy. That includes very old westerns from the 40s and early 50s– real vintage American westerns– as well as the Italian versions. One channel was devoted entirely to American crime shows. Some were really vintage including Raymond Burr as Ironside. I had forgotten that he grew large was a house. In one scene, he barely could fit in an elevator. The Italian quiz shows reminded me of the Japanese versions because of the slapstick nature of what happened to contestants who answered a question wrong.

I noticed that the Italians are a nation of readers — I saw lots of small bookstores, and that warmed my heart. I also heard many Italians express their opposition to Starbucks’ planned arrival. Some had signed petitions protesting that company’s presence. The Italians are fascinated by Donald Trump and had lots of questions about him. They told me they were tired of being the laughing stock of Europe because of their former prime minister–it’s about time, they said, for Americans to see what it’s like to have the world laugh at your leader.

Florence is to me probably the world’s most interesting city. We found more museums and more art than we ever imagined. It’s a very walkable city as well. We developed a certain amount of pride in being able to navigate without getting lost. Even if we had gotten lost, we had learned enough Italian to ask directions. The Italians seemed to genuinely welcome Americans. I never felt the snobbery we’ve experienced at times in Paris.

All in all, I’d recommend the Road Scholar Living and Learning Abroad program. I honestly can’t imagine six weeks in Berlin, but the other cities do sound intriguing.

Dynasty versus Populist Politics: The Sad Truth of Hillary versus Trump

It’s like watching a train wreck about to happen knowing that there isn’t much you can do. The Republicans have been fueling the anger of Americans for the past eight years. Somehow they’ve managed to erase any memory of George W’s involvement in the financial collapse in 2008 as well as his disastrous move into Iraq. Everyone is angry today including people who can’t find jobs, those who are underemployed, students with huge student loans, blacks who feel afraid to drive for fear of being pulled over, and religious fundamentalists who see the world changing and can’t adjust.

So, it definitely is a year when a populist is bound to do well. Promise you’ll fix everything and blame everyone who currently is in office and you’re guaranteed to find voters willing to vote for you. Donald Trump has seized on the public’s angry mood and played voters by appealing to their basest instincts. He’s managed to avoid having to provide concrete solutions because many of his most fervent followers are looking for a strong leader who will do whatever is needed. By shouting over others during debates and using a lot of four letter words Trump has managed to convince his followers that he is strong.

Conversely, 2016 is a terrible year for the political establishment and for political dynasties. Take Jeb! for example. People see him as Crown Prince Jeb, the next anointed member of a family where both his father and brother have been presidents. Americans have a deep-seated fear of dynasties going back to the Constitution’s restriction of two-term limits for that office. Bush never had a chance against a populist opponent because none of the conventional tools work this year. Throw lots of money into ads? That didn’t work. Get lots of endorsements from establishment politicians? That didn’t work either. Bring in his brother and mother? That only made it more apparent that he was a dynasty candidate.

What about Hillary? She’s really a very sad figure. I believe she always wanted to be the first female president and prepared herself for that role. She usually was the smartest and best prepared person in any room filled with politicians because she worked the hardest. Unfortunately she is not just a sad figure, but a truly tragic figure much like one of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes. All of her ability cannot mask or ameliorate her weaknesses as a politician. She’s just plain awkward unlike her gifted husband. When she gives a speech, she brays rather than vary the pitch of her voice. She clearly is not comfortable glad-handing the common folk the way her husband did. She has been so burned by Clinton haters and hostile reporters that she tries to shield herself behind a protective wall. Her need for privacy caused her to make the wrong decision and use her own personal server; that gave the Republicans who own the House and can investigate anything they want a golden opportunity.

The drip drip drip effect of her email investigation will go on forever. At the same time, she has been on the scene so long that everyone has made up their mind about her as a person and as a candidate. She has a ceiling as far as votes because she has such huge negativity ratings. To put it bluntly, around 47-50% of likely voters will not vote for her under any circumstances. Based on recent election demographics, the vote of white women over 45 will not make up for the loss of blue collar white men and women under 45 as well as students. She just doesn’t inspire enthusiasm the way Bernie Sanders does. Her supporters are trying to to portray her as the inevitable Democratic nominee much the same way they did in 2008 against Barack Obama. How did that go?

I would not be surprised if the super delegates, the Democratic establishment, doesn’t start to wonder if Bernie isn’t the only possible candidate who can defeat Trump. After all, what can Trump call him besides a socialist? He can’t attack him personally because Bernie has always been pretty consistent and pretty transparent. Maybe he could infer that the country isn’t ready for its first Jewish president, but that might backfire. So, no Benghazi, no email scandal, no talk of all the old Clinton scandals, no mention of Clinton’s vote on the Iraq war or her decision to push for government change in Libya. Presumably President Obama would rally African Americans to vote to go along with students and others.

Did you notice the dirty little secret of Hillary’s South Carolina landslide? While she received over 70% of the vote and received around 43 delegates, Bernie wound up with around 11 delegates. In other words, the Democratic Party’s decision to make its primary elections proportional allocation of delegates means that it is extremely difficult for one candidate to receive the necessary votes for nomination if the other candidate does a good job in smaller caucus states as well as puts up a reasonable fight in the midwest and east coast states. I would not be surprised if Hillary does not quite get to the magic number, particularly if the FBI begins making noise about their own investigation of her email server.

It would be ironic if Trump triumphs in the primaries and doesn’t have to worry about a smoke-filled convention while Hillary succumbs to behind-the-scene efforts to find a candidate who actually can have a chance against Trump. In other words, I’ve come to the conclusion that it takes a populist to beat a populist and the days of dynasty politics might be over in this country.

Marketing a Novel Today

Several centuries ago there were no printing presses. Monks and scribes struggled for years to produce books. So, few books and few readers. There was an explosion of books with the invention of the printing press, but not that many readers initially. How things have changed! Today anyone can publish a book that looks great. Bloggers are deluged to review hundreds of books. Everyone seems to be writing books– certainly every celebrity and sports star. I grapple as a novelist with finding readers since I don’t have a big 5 publisher behind me providing marketing help.

Because I have a paranormal thriller coming out later this year (Hello Again), I’ve begun to prepare a very detailed marketing campaign. It’s taken me more hours than I care to admit to put together a list of bloggers who seem to enjoy books similar to mine. I’ve added lists of reviewers of my previous books, as well as friends and former colleagues.

I also have prepared a budget and targeted various marketing companies that specialize in finding reviewers and getting the word out. The problem is that marketing tools and trends are changing faster than I can keep up with. I’m being told now that Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are not enough. I need to dive into Instagram, Snapshot, and Periscope.

I’m not going to take that particular leap yet, but I’ll let you know what kind of success I have using a pretty detailed traditional marketing plan.

Finding Your Gift to Give the World

 

The older you get, the more you begin to look back in an effort to make sense of your life and the lives of those around you. I have come to the conclusion that everyone does have a gift, something they can give the world. It is also something that gives them joy every time they give this gift.

So, in effect, finding the meaning to your life does not really require you to visit a guru or climb a mountain to meditate. It does require you to examine what you do well and what that contributes to other people. Someone whose gift is their ability to nurture, for example, might find joy in the teaching or nursing profession. Similarly, an athlete who feels joy whenever he excels might bring that joy to others who experience joy in watching him perform. Michael Jordan is a good example. By all accounts he is not a particularly nice person. His competitive zeal caused him to fight with teammates and coaches. He never found happiness off the court. Still, he confided to reporters that the only time he felt really at peace was when he was playing basketball. His superhuman abilities on the court also brought joy to those who saw him play.

Finding your gift can take much of a lifetime or it can happen very early. My brother, for example, already knew by the age of nine that he wanted to be a journalist. He was never happier as a kid than when he brought home copies of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Arizona Republic and read them cover-to cover. Over the years he worked his way all the way up to Editor, but I never thought he considered what he did as work.

In my case, I loved teaching college students, but left that profession when I became enamored with the computer industry. I spent some time in computer sales. I hated the cold calling, but I enjoyed explaining why the product was worth buying. Later I became a market research executive. Once again, what brought me joy was communicating the value of the research.

So, it’s clear to me that my gift is my ability to explain complex subjects in a way people can understand them. I’ve written several college textbooks and now teach on a volunteer basis. Even when I write fiction, I tend to take on complex issues and try to explain them in the story without being preachy. One mystery, as an example, delves into the complex issue of gender identity and transgender people. A science fiction novel I wrote explores the possible implications of a first contact between humans and extraterrestrials. That’s a subject so interesting to me that I self-published a non-fiction book on that topic.

Maslow came up with the term self-actualization to describe people who reach a level of psychic satisfaction once their basic physiological needs are met. It’s another way of describing people discovering their gift, the unique quality they bring to this world. If you’ve ever wondered what your gift is, then the best way to learn that answer is to start by interviewing yourself and jotting down all the tasks that bring joy to you. The next step is to determine what these tasks have in common. Let’s say you sell insurance all day but live for the valuable time when you’re not working so you can spend time woodworking or carving figurines. Clearly you have a gift for building things with your own hands. Whether that means you should expand your hobby into a small business or find a job that will allow you to spend more of your time doing what you love, you should consider finding ways to spend most of your day doing what you love.

Reinvent Yourself: Advice From a Change Master

My wife tells people she has been married to twelve different men; in reality we’ve been married forty-nine years, but I’ve change careers and reinvented myself over a dozen times. Keep in mind that each radical change meant learning to adapt quickly to new work environments, new responsibilities, a new work culture, and new colleagues who often had different educational backgrounds, different values, and markedly different interests. If you think I’m exaggerating, imagine yourself invited to three different parties. One consists of a group of English professors discussing their latest research on Chaucer, Hemingway, and Shakespeare. Another party consists of police officers, mostly with GEDs and no college degrees, comparing notes on the most horrible crimes they’ve investigated. The third party is held by a group of software engineers where almost no one speaks first. Some people attending that party can go an entire evening without saying more than a polite hello. Some but not all of my other transformations include sales manager, hospital lab tech, computer network manager, futurist, software trainer, and market research executive.

In most of these situations I managed to make radical career transformations without taking major salary cuts. The secret to reinventing oneself consists of knowing how to recognize and communicate your transferable skills, know how to learn quickly, and know how to convince a skeptical employer that it makes perfect sense to take the risk of hiring someone with an unconventional background.

Let’s take the art of convincing a skeptical employer to take a chance on someone who wants to reinvent himself or herself. I moved from English professor to software trainer with a major mainframe computer company by identifying the head of training, arranging for us to have lunch together, and then convincing him over that lunch that someone who was an excellent teacher of something radically different could pick up mainframe software programming quickly and then be able to train that company’s customers.

Let’s take futurist as a second example. I convinced my future employer that I was already doing the job of a futurist (in this case a technology analyst who had to forecast future trends for specific industries) even though I was doing it as a hobby rather than as my day job.

Once in a new job, the reinvention part is not complete. You still have to learn the content required for this new job quickly and, this is critical, adjust to a new culture. When I moved from being a college professor to a law enforcement administrator, my educational background could not have been more different from the police officers I worked with every day. I realized I had successfully navigated that change on a Sunday when an officer came over because he had heard I had engine trouble. He took my engine out of my car, had the cylinders reground, and put everything back together without charging me anything but his cost.

So, reinventing oneself means recognizing your potential for completely different types of work by identifying your transferrable skills and convincing others to give you a chance. It also means fitting in a new work environment and quickly identifying the social rules each culture has.

One secret for those of you considering reinventing yourself is to look to new industries where the barriers for entry are not as rigid. When I talked my way into the computer industry, for example, there still weren’t formal computer science degrees offered. Recently I co-authored a book (Paint Your Career Green) that lays out why emerging green industries can be so attractive for people who want to make radical career changes. These new industries do not as yet have formalized educational requirements. Often you can take a few extension courses or earn an extension certificate to validate your knowledge in a new industry such as water purification or solar energy.

Another secret to making radical career changes is to know how to do research. Most people spend far more time researching a new car than they do researching new industries and key contacts. I write at length about this approach in Paint Your Career Green, but the point is that if you can meet a key contact before you apply for a job, you’re way ahead. If you have researched that industry and figured out how you could definitely add value to a particular company, then you’re even further ahead.

So, with the new year approaching, it’s a good time to do some soul-searching and determine if you want to reinvent yourself. In the current economic environment, it is likely it could take an entire year to make the change. Still, you will be a year older whether you make the transformation or not, so why not consider it?

 

Have a Ghostly Holiday Season and Enjoy a Discount

My publisher is currently running a promotion on the electronic edition of A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer. It is available for only .99 cents through December 12th. What makes the book so unusual is that I’ve wedded the traditional police procedure novel replete with a hard-boiled female detective to the paranormal novel that in this case features a sexy and savvy ghost.

So far the reviewers have commented how much they enjoyed another chance to become with the major characters. You’ll find all of them in this Frankie and Josh novel, even though you don’t have to read Silent Partner first. Those of you who enjoy A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer can find the same characters. Enjoy!

 

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