Missile Defense

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There are few existential threats to the United States. At the top of most lists are ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The United States has been pursuing an effective defense against this threat since President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative decades ago.

Recently, the Pentagon unveiled its new Missile Defense Strategy, the first in many years. Here’s how a recent New York Times article explained it. It begins:

President Trump vowed on Thursday to reinvigorate and reinvent American missile defenses in a speech that recalled Cold War-era visions of nuclear adversaries — though he never once mentioned Russia or China, the two great-power threats to the United States.

While the president infused the new missile efforts with his ambitions for a Space Force, the actual plans released by the Pentagon were far more incremental. As a political matter, Mr. Trump’s speech seemed designed to play well with his base, a tough-sounding call to a new generation of arms that evoked Ronald Reagan’s 1983 “Star Wars” missile defense program.

“Our goal is simple: to ensure that we can detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, any time, any place,” Mr. Trump said.

“Our strategy is grounded in one overriding objective: to detect and destroy every type of missile attack against any American target, whether before or after launch,” he said. “When it comes to defending America, we will not take any chances. We will only take action. There is no substitute for American military might.” 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

Arms Race

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If you had any doubt that the United States is in an arms race with China, a recent Sunday New York Times article (front page, above the fold) should dash any doubts.

Here’s how the piece, “In 5G Race With China, U.S. Pushes Allies to Fight Huawei,” begins:

Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign minister, arrived in Washington last week for a whirlwind of meetings facing a critical question: Should Britain risk its relationship with Beijing and agree to the Trump administration’s request to ban Huawei, China’s leading telecommunications producer, from building its next-generation computer and phone networks?

Britain is not the only American ally feeling the heat. In Poland, officials are also under pressure from the United States to bar Huawei from building its fifth generation, or 5G, network. Trump officials suggested that future deployments of American troops — including the prospect of a permanent base labeled “Fort Trump” — could hinge on Poland’s decision.

And a delegation of American officials showed up last spring in Germany, where most of Europe’s giant fiber-optic lines connect and Huawei wants to build the switches that make the system hum. Their message: Any economic benefit of using cheaper Chinese telecom equipment is outweighed by the security threat to the NATO alliance.

Over the past year, the United States has embarked on a stealthy, occasionally threatening, global campaign to prevent Huawei and other Chinese firms from participating in the most dramatic remaking of the plumbing that controls the internet since it sputtered into being, in pieces, 35 years ago. This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full article here

Better Prose

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Whether you write at work, at home, as a hobby, whatever, you likely welcome tips on how to improve what you write. It’s human nature.

That’s why I was struck by a recent review of a book, “Dreyer’s English.” The review had the intriguing title, “Flossing Your Prose.” Here’s how it began:

I spy a trend: copy editors’ memoirs-cum-style guides. Four years ago, Mary Norris—a longtime copy editor for the New Yorker—published the splendid “Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen.” Now comes the copy chief at Random House with the rather more grand-sounding “Dreyer’s English.”

I hasten to say that the grandness of Benjamin Dreyer’s title is at least half ironic and self-deprecating, as is his subtitle: “An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.” But the name of the book does accurately reflect its difference from Ms. Norris’s. Hers is three-quarters memoir, one-quarter guide, and his is roughly the opposite ratio.

And accordingly, Mr. Dreyer has a lot of useful information to impart. In the first sentence of this review, he guided me to lower-case the “c” in the word following the colon; write “editors’ ” rather than “editors” or “editors’s” (or, heaven forbid, “editor’s”); and use “cum” (Latin for “with”) to indicate a thing with two identities, without italics or fear of offending anyone’s sensibilities.

Writing in such an utterly correct way feels good, I must say. It reminds me of something Mr. Dreyer quotes an author friend as saying—being well copy-edited is like getting “a really thorough teeth cleaning.” The result may come off as just a trifle stilted, but I’m in sympathy with what Mr. Dreyer writes later on: “There’s a certain tautness in slightly stilted prose that I find almost viscerally thrilling.” (That post-colon “There’s” gets capitalized because it kicks off a complete sentence.) Want more? You can read it 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

Our World – Our Minds?

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It’s not much of a stretch to say that stories about big tech have dominated the headlines in recent years. We’ve all read them – and many of them are less-than-flattering.

That’s why I gravitated to a new book: “World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech.” While I have my own – strong – opinions about what the big says, I found John Herrman’s review of the book clarifying in explaining the import of this book. Here is how he begins:

The technology critic is typically a captive figure, beholden either to a sorrowful past, a panicked present or an arrogant future. In his proudest moments, he resembles something like a theorist of transformation, decline and creation. In his lowest, he is more like a speaking canary, prone to prophecy, a game with losing odds. His attempts at optimism are framed as counterintuitive, faring little better, in predictive terms, than his lapses into pessimism. He teeters hazardously between implicating his audience and merely giving their anxieties a name. He — and it is almost always a he — is the critical equivalent of an unreliable narrator, unable to write about technology without also writing about himself. Occasionally, he is right: about what is happening, about what should happen, and about what it means. And so he carries on, and his audience with him.

Franklin Foer, thankfully, recognizes these pitfalls even if he can’t always avoid them. Who can? The melodramatically titled “World Without Mind,” Foer’s compact attempt at a broad technological polemic — which identifies the stupendous successes of Amazon, Google and Facebook, among others, as an “existential threat” to the individual and to society — begins with a disclaimer. Foer’s tumultuous stint editing The New Republic under the ownership of the Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes ended with mass resignations and public acrimony. “There’s no doubt that this experience informs the argument of this book,” he writes. He is likewise entangled through his proximity to publishing: The author’s friends, colleagues and immediate family members — including his brother, the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer — depend to different degrees on the industry Amazon consumed first. The book is dedicated to his father, Bert, a crusading antitrust lawyer.

In this slightly crouched posture, and with a hint of healthy self-doubt, Foer proceeds quickly. We, the consuming public, have failed to properly understand the new tech superpowers, he suggests, leaving little hope for stodgy and reluctant American regulators. The scope of their influence is obscured by the sheer number of things they do and sell, or problems they purport to be solving, and by our outdated sense of what constitutes a monopoly. To that end, Foer promotes the concept of the “knowledge monopoly,” which he qualifies with a mischievous grin. “My hope is that we revive ‘monopoly’ as a core piece of political rhetoric that broadly denotes dominant firms with pernicious powers,” he says, rather than as a “technical” term referring to one company cornerning a market. (His new monopolists, after all, aren’t raising prices. They’re giving things away free). Want more? You can read the full article here

For Duty and Honor: Reviewed in Wings of Gold Magazine

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THERE IS DUTY. THERE IS JUSTICE. AND THEN THERE IS VENGEANCE…

A vicious terrorist attack leaves nearly seventy U.S. sailors dead, and the entire United States Navy looking for answers.

In the volatile waters of the Arabian Gulf, the USS Carl Vinson Strike Group – under the command of Admiral Heater Robinson – stands ready to unleash the full fury of a nuclear aircraft carrier against America’s enemies. When it becomes clear that the government has no intention of punishing the murderers, Robinson decides to take justice into his own hands, no matter what the cost.

As a storm of terror descends upon the United States, CIA operative and U.S. Navy SEAL Rick Holden faces a moral dilemma of his own. The military elite in Washington have chosen Holden to halt the cycle of madness.

His orders: assassinate the strike group’s commander, Admiral Heater Robinson.

One of the Greats!

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For people who love books, 2018 was a year of mixed blessings – many great new books arrived, but it was also a year when we lost one of the greats, V.S. Naipaul.

While there have been many wonderful obituaries of this wonderful writer, one in particular is most memorable to me. Here is how it begins:

V.S. Naipaul, the Nobel laureate had so many gifts as a writer — suppleness, wit, an unsparing eye for detail — that he could seemingly do whatever he wanted. What he did want, it became apparent, was to rarely please anyone but himself. The world’s readers flocked to his many novels and books of reportage for “his fastidious scorn,” as the critic Clive James wrote, “not for his large heart.” In his obvious greatness, in the hard truths he dealt, Naipaul attracted and repelled.

He was a walking sack of contradictions, in some ways the archetypal writer of the shifting and migratory 20th century. His life was a series of journeys between old world and new. He was a cool and sometimes snappish mediator between continents. Indian by descent, Trinidadian by birth, Naipaul attended Oxford and lived in London, where he came to wear elegant suits and move in elite social circles. “When I talk about being an exile or a refugee I’m not just using a metaphor,” he said. “I’m speaking literally.”

It is a mistake to compress any gifted writer, perhaps especially Naipaul, down to his politics. His gifts as an observer are simply too large. But political themes came fully into view. His instinctive defense of the locals who led restricted lives under colonialism came into crushing conflict with his bleak view of their societies. Not for him the upbeat, pastel-colored Caribbean novel of uplift. He was pessimistic about the idea of radical political change.

A touchy sense of shame cut through his fiction. “My most difficult thing to overcome was being born in Trinidad,” he said. “That crazy resort place! How on earth can you have serious writing from a crazy resort place?” He may have won the Nobel Prize in 2001 but, from the start, he was a laureate of humiliation. This is just a snippet. 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