Women Writers

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If there is one field where I believe the playing field between women and men is level, it’s the profession of writing. Both sexes have hit it out of the park with their stories and books.

I wondered about this, that is, until I read a review of Michelle Dean’s new book: “Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion.” Here’s how the review begins:

One must have a mind of winter,” Wallace Stevens writes in his poem “The Snow Man.” It’s the cold eye that beholds, without sentimentality or fear, “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” In “Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion,” the journalist Michelle Dean has rounded up 10 minds of winter, all of them female, all of them prominent writers whose criticism, long-form reporting, fiction and satire have shaped thinking on world events and cultural dramas: Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Renata Adler and Janet Malcolm. Dean gathered these women together, she says in her preface, “under the sign of a compliment that every one of them received in their lives: They were called sharp.”

It is, of course, a compliment with an edge. Call a man “sharp” and he’s stylish, incisive, smart. Apply it to a woman, Dean writes, and there’s a “sense of terror underlying it. Sharpness, after all, cuts.” A virtue of her book is that it shows how each woman, by wielding a pen as if it were a scalpel or a scimitar, confounded the gender norm of niceness and placed her analytical prowess front and center. Among 20th-century intellectuals, “men might have outnumbered women, demographically,” Dean writes, but “in the arguably more crucial matter of producing work worth remembering, the work that defined the terms of their scene, the women were right up to par — and often beyond it.” I agree with her.

Want more? You can read the full review here

Last Man Standing

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I count myself as one of the many admirers of Secretary of Defense, James Mattis. This regard dates back to well before his current job, going back to his service as a Marine Corps Officer.

Much appropriate good has been said about general Mattis, but it wasn’t until I read Robert Worth’s New York Times Magazine piece about General Mattis that I fully appreciated all of the great qualities he brings to the job. Here is how the article begins:

One morning in mid-November, while answering routine press questions about aircraft carriers off the Korean Peninsula and de-confliction zones in Syria, Jim Mattis quietly hinted at something far more important. The United States would not be withdrawing its forces from Syria after the anticipated defeat of ISIS, as President Trump had been promising since his inauguration. Instead, the defense secretary suggested that American forces not only would remain but could even expand their role. “We’re going to make sure we set the conditions for a diplomatic solution,” Mattis said. “You need to do something about this mess now. Not just, you know, fight the military part of it and then say, ‘Good luck on the rest of it.’ ”

In a quieter time, Mattis’s comments might have made headlines: Here was a potential shift in America’s tortured efforts to manage the Middle East, and one that was bound to ignite conflict with Turkey, a NATO member and ally. In late December, Mattis offered more details at another briefing, saying that America was moving from a purely offensive role in Syria to a “stabilizing” one. He spoke of sending more diplomats and contractors, reopening schools, bolstering public health — a plan that would grow to include deploying new border forces and promoting economic renewal, all with a view toward helping Syrians topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Although the number of United States boots on the ground would remain small, for now, the goals were ambitious and a little gauzy, and sounded an awful lot like the “nation building” that Trump had so often derided during his presidential campaign.

Want more? You can read the full piece here

We’re Better Than This

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News of the recent White House Correspondent’s Association Dinner has reached a near-saturation point, so I’d posting this blog advisedly.

My day job – as well as my personal and professional interests – revolve around international relations. That leads directly to worrying about America’s standing in the world.

From where I set, the White House Correspondent’s Association Dinner knocked America’s standing down more notches than I care to think about.

I’ve had many thoughts as to why this event was so troubling but had trouble articulating them. Then I read Peggy Noonan’s op-ed and things became clear. Here’s how she began:

It’s over, the conversation has turned and won’t bubble up again till early next year but a final thing should be said about the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. It’s been persuasively argued that the dinner hurt journalism (true) and politics in general (yes). But I think it hurt America.

Here, with apologies but to make a point (the TV clips don’t capture it) is a sample of the comic stylings of Michelle Wolf, in the centerpiece speech of the evening. To put things in historical context, the tampon joke is very much like what Walter Lippmann said of Mamie Eisenhower. Oh wait, that’s wrong. But the banging bimbos reference is reminiscent of what Bobby Kennedy said about Scotty Reston. Oh dear, that’s wrong too. Anyway here’s what Michelle Wolf said.

On Mike Pence : “He thinks abortion is murder, which, first of all, don’t knock it till you try it. And when you do try it, really knock it—you know, you’ve got to get that baby out of there.” Paul Ryan has been circumcised. “Unfortunately, while they were down there they also took his balls.” Ivanka Trump is “about as helpful to women as an empty box of tampons.” “She’s the Diaper Genie of the administration: on the outside, she looks sleek, but the inside, it’s full of sh—.” “Like a porn star when she’s about to have sex with Donald Trump, ‘Let’s get this over with.’ ” “Oh, you don’t think he’s good in bed.” Of Sarah Sanders: “Like, what’s Uncle Tom but for white women who disappoint other white women? Oh I know, Aunt Coulter. ” Also, she’d like to make fun of Democrats but they’re “harder to make fun of because you guys don’t do anything.” Lucky them.

The above is an abridged version of Ms. Wolf’s quotes, because most of them didn’t make it past my editors. These are the tamer ones.

What’s wrong with those remarks? You’re thinking of words like vulgar, grubby and immature, and you’re right, and you’re detecting an embarrassing fixation on sexual organs and bodily functions, and you’re right there too.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Facebook

Facebook has been in the news recently – that’s an understatement. The recent travails the tech giant has undergone are well-chronicalled, and don’t need repeating here.

But some were identifying the downside of Facebook’s size some time ago. Here is what Ross Douthat shared almost two years ago in his piece: “Facebook’s Subtle Empire:”

IN one story people tell about the news media, we have moved from an era of consolidation and authority to an era of fragmentation and diversity. Once there were three major television networks, and everyone believed what Walter Cronkite handed down from Sinai. Then came cable TV and the talk radio boom, and suddenly people could seek out ideologically congenial sources and tune out the old mass-culture authorities. Then finally the Internet smashed the remaining media monopolies, scattered news readers to the online winds, and opened an age of purely individualized news consumption.

How compelling is this story? It depends on what you see when you look at Facebook.

In one light, Facebook is a powerful force driving fragmentation and nicheification. It gives its users news from countless outlets, tailored to their individual proclivities. It allows those users to be news purveyors in their own right, playing Cronkite every time they share stories with their “friends.” And it offers a platform to anyone, from any background or perspective, looking to build an audience from scratch.

But seen in another light, Facebook represents a new era of media consolidation, a return of centralized authority over how people get their news. From this perspective, Mark Zuckerberg’s empire has become an immensely powerful media organization in its own right, albeit one that effectively subcontracts actual news gathering to other entities (this newspaper included). And its potential influence is amplified by the fact that this Cronkite-esque role is concealed by Facebook’s self-definition as “just” a social hub.

These two competing understandings have collided in the last few weeks, after it was revealed that Facebook’s list of “trending topics” is curated by a group of toiling journalists, not just an impersonal algorithm, and after a former curator alleged that decisions about which stories “trend” are biased against conservative perspectives.

Want to read more

Tech and the Military

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What fuels the U.S. military today isn’t hardware, but software. And it’s not just the kind of software you use on your home computer or your video games.

Today’s military arms race involves artificial intelligence and machine learning. And the U.S. companies leading that effort are the big tech companies: Alphabet, Google, Facebook and others.

The U.S. military has gone to these companies for one reason – so our warfighters have an edge against an adversary.

It was almost inevitable that challenges would come up from this uneasy marriage – and now they have.

Here is how a recent article, “A Google Military Project Fuels Internal Dissent,” begins, and this may just be the tip of iceberg:

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses artificial intelligence to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes.

The letter, which is circulating inside Google and has garnered more than 3,100 signatures, reflects a culture clash between Silicon Valley and the federal government that is likely to intensify as cutting-edge artificial intelligence is increasingly employed for military purposes.

“We believe that Google should not be in the business of war,” says the letter, addressed to Sundar Pichai, the company’s chief executive. It asks that Google pull out of Project Maven, a Pentagon pilot program, and announce a policy that it will not “ever build warfare technology.”

You can read the full review here

To Do – or Not To Do

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Maybe it’s my upbringing, maybe it’s my career choice, but I am more wedded to “To Do Lists” than anyone I know.

They’ve worked – up to a point. But they are also a source of guilt (I never seem to get to the end of them). That’s why I read Patricia Hampl’s recent piece with such interest. Here’s how she begins:

Life, if you’re lucky, is divided into thirds, my father used to say: youth, middle age and “You look good.” The dawn of that third stage is glinting right at me.

It isn’t simply that at this point more life is behind me — behind any middle-aged person — than lies ahead. Middle-aged? Who am I kidding? Who do you know who’s 144?

It’s not just about aging. By the time you’ve worked long enough, hard enough, real life begins to reveal itself as something other than effort, other than accomplishment. Real life wishes to be left to its own purposeless devices.

This isn’t sloth. It isn’t even exhaustion. It’s a late-arriving awareness of consciousness existing for its own sake.

The to-do list that runs most lives through middle age turns out, in this latter stage of existence, to have only one task: to waste life in order to find it. Who said that? Or something like that. Jesus? Buddha? Bob Dylan? Somebody who knew what’s what.

Mine was the first year of the notorious American baby boom, 1946. The year three of our recent presidents were born: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Donald Trump. “You’re a boomer!” we were always told, as if we were named for the bomb, that midcentury annihilator.

We got all the good stuff.

The postwar hope and determination of our Depression-era parents was piled upon us, the fossil fuel of earlier generations we burned up without a care. We had a preposterously long sense of our own youthfulness.

But now the boomers are approaching the other side. Not death necessarily (though the time has begun when no one will say we were cut down too early). We’re reaching the other side of striving.

You should try meditating or maybe yoga — yoga’s good,” someone said when I mentioned my fevered to-do lists, the sometimes alarming blood pressure readings, the dark-night-of-the-soul insomnia.

But meditating is just another thing. Yoga? Another task, another item for the to-do list.

This battle between striving and serenity may be distinctly American. The struggle between toil and the dream of ease is an American birthright, the way a Frenchman expects to have decent wine at a reasonable price, and the whole month of August on vacation.

Want more? You can read the full piece here

Page Tuners at 90!

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One of my writing mentors once told me that there were three ingredients to being a successful writer: talent, persistence, and durability. I’ve always gotten the first two, but wondered about the third. Then I read this recent piece about Mary Higgins Clark who is still cranking out page-turners at the ripe young age of ninety! Here’s how the article begins:

At age 90, Mary Higgins Clark is often asked why she’s still writing. The suspense novelist gives two answers: “One, I love to write,” she says. “The second is I get very well paid to write.”

As she enters her 10th decade, Ms. Clark is still writing two books a year. Her fast-moving mysteries often feature a sharp, intelligent heroine who helps to discover the killer after a few false starts. Her broad commercial appeal has generated more than 50 best sellers, including such titles as “Where Are the Children?” (1975), “The Cradle Will Fall” (1980) and “We’ll Meet Again” (1999). All told, there are more than 100 million copies of her books in print in the U.S. alone.

Her latest, a murder mystery out this month called “I’ve Got My Eyes on You,” is the 43rd book she’s written solo (some of her other titles have co-authors). Set in Saddle River, N.J., where Ms. Clark lives with her husband in real life, the book opens with the murder of an 18-year-old girl who ends up at the bottom of a swimming pool after a party at her parents’ house. Among the suspects: her boyfriend and a neighbor.

Want more? You can read the full piece here

A Review of The Coronado Conspiracy from Rotor Magazine

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Learn more about The Coronado Conspiracy

We Are Vulnerable!

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Full disclosure, Dick Couch has been a friend and mentor for decades. Additionally, we have co-authored three New York Times best-sellers: Act of Valor, Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Out of the Ashes, and Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Into the Fire. Dick is enormously talented – even gifted – but now we should add “prescient” to his list of attributes. Here’s why.

Shortly after the attacks on America of September 11, 2001, Dick, in cooperation with agent John Boswell, began work on a book: “The U.S. Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological And Chemical Survival Manual.” No one knew if there would be more attacks on the United States, but if there were, Dick wanted Americans to be ready.

Thankfully, there were no more major attacks on the United States in the years following 911, but Dick knew there could be in the future. Now, in today’s political climate, “The U.S. Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological And Chemical Survival Manual” is flying off shelves and onto e-book readers. Why? Because Americans are fearful – and they have a right to be.

This book is a great way to protect yourself and your family. Here is a link

An Example for All

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Few U.S. First Ladies were as respected – even revered – as Barbara Bush. It is no surprise that there has been an avalanche of tributes to the wife – and mother – of presidents.

One piece that I found especially on-point was an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal entitled: “When Barbara Bush Visited Wellesley.” Here is part of what Peggy Dooley said:

Protests, politics, controversy and Russians! No, not today’s headlines— Barbara Bush’s 1990 commencement address at Wellesley College.

That spring, the Cold War was winding down, Donald Trump was king of the New York tabloids for nothing having to do with politics, and the first lady was the subject of a national controversy. Days after she was announced in March as Wellesley’s commencement speaker, 150 students at the prestigious women’s college in suburban Massachusetts signed petitions declaring themselves “outraged” at the choice of someone who’d ridden to prominence on her husband’s coattails rather than her own merit.

That spurred a coast-to-coast discussion on feminism and the role of women in modern-day America, and everyone weighed in, from President Bush to David Letterman. It went on for months, in contrast with the story-cycle-burst-then-on-to-the-next that we see today.

The speech was carried live on the major TV networks—there were three of them then—a first for a first lady. Accompanied by her Soviet counterpart, Raisa Gorbachev —a U.S.-Soviet summit was going on in Washington—she arrived on the dais to raucous applause.

Barbara Bush was a week away from turning 65 on that day, June 1. She was famous for her white hair, her pearls and, yes, for being the wife of the president. No, she wasn’t the secretary of state delivering the latest policy on the Middle East. She wasn’t a billionaire sharing a story of rising to the top. “Just” a housewife, those protesting students had intimated. What could she possibly have to say?

“For several years, you’ve had impressed upon you the importance to your career of dedication and hard work,” she said. “That’s true. But as important as your obligations as a doctor, lawyer or business leader will be, you are a human being first and those human connections—with spouses, with children, with friends—are the most important investments you will ever make.”

Make an “effort to learn about and respect difference, to be compassionate with one another, to cherish our own identity and to accept unconditionally the same in others.”

She said she hoped the students would consider making three very important choices: believe in something larger than yourself, find the joy in life (“It’s supposed to be fun!”), and cherish your human connections. “At the end of your life,” she said, “you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent.”

She wrapped up saying she hoped each graduate would realize her dream in life. “And who knows?” she said. “Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the president’s spouse. I wish him well!”

With that, she brought down the house. Mic-drop, as we’d say today.

And all this from “just” a housewife. Imagine that.

Want more? You can read the full article here